Tennessee Congressman Presses Feds on School Bus Seat Belts

Thomas McMahon
Posted on July 20, 2017
In a committee hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen questioned why federal regulators have not initiated a rulemaking to require lap-shoulder belts on school buses. Screenshot from YouTube video
In a committee hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen questioned why federal regulators have not initiated a rulemaking to require lap-shoulder belts on school buses. Screenshot from YouTube video

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A congressman from Tennessee questioned federal transportation officials on school bus occupant protection in a committee hearing on Tuesday.

During the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen brought up last year’s fatal school bus crashes in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Baltimore, Maryland. In light of those crashes, Cohen asked why federal regulators have not initiated a rulemaking to require lap-shoulder belts on school buses.

“Six school-aged children were taken [in Chattanooga] … and that was wrong,” Cohen said. “In both cases, it seems there were a number of safety precautions and oversight issues that could have prevented or mitigated the risk of injuries and fatalities suffered from the unfortunate events.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA’s) previous administrator, Mark Rosekind, announced in 2015 that the agency’s new position was that “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”

However, NHTSA has not turned that recommendation into a requirement. Rosekind’s term as administrator ended with the inauguration of President Trump, and the agency is still awaiting a new administrator.

In the committee hearing on Tuesday, Cohen noted that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has endorsed lap-shoulder belts for school buses in several of its crash investigations. The congressman asked Bella Dinh-Zarr, an NTSB board member, if that recommendation still stands.

“That still does stand. We are recommending that states and school boards, as they buy new school buses, buy buses that have this better type of restraint system,” Dinh-Zarr replied. “And the reason is, in our crash reconstruction and our investigations, we found that there are certain types of crashes, such as a rollover crash or a side-impact crash, where having a three-point seat belt is very important.”

Cohen said that he has been working on the issue of school bus safety since the 1990s, and he claimed that school boards have consistently opposed equipping school buses with seat belts because of the added cost.

“The money should come secondary to safety,” Cohen said in the hearing. “Dollars shouldn’t be the issue with our precious cargo.”

To that end, in December, Cohen introduced a bill in Congress that would create federal grants to equip school buses with lap-shoulder belts, among other measures targeting pupil transportation. The “Bring Enhanced Liability in Transportation for Students (BELTS) Act” failed to pass out of committee, but Cohen said in a press release on Tuesday that he plans to reintroduce the bill.

Watch video of Cohen’s remarks and Dinh-Zarr’s response below.

Related Topics: fatalities, NHTSA, NTSB, school bus crash, seat belts, Tennessee

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
Comments ( 3 )
  • TN bus driver

     | about 3 years ago

    I see in a previous post that someone mentioned a fire on a school bus. Impossible for one person to cut every belt...YES. Seatbelt cutters (razor blades in hard plastic casing) that we carry on our buses will stay sharp for about 15 belts. As the driver goes through cutting belts, the time per belt increases because the blade is getting duller. At 30 belts, with the same cutter, it'll take 3-5 seconds longer to cut a belt, at 35 belts it'll take 8-10 seconds longer. At 45 belts, (If the driver makes it that far because he/she is breathing all that smoke) the blade of the cutter is so dull that it quits cutting. So what now? What about the other 15-30+ students left buckled? Now think of the same situation without seat belts. Here's the numbers: º 7 minutes for a bus to be completely engulfed in flames º 1st 15 belts cut takes about 1.5 minutes. Now we have 5.5 minutes left. º The next 15 belts takes about 2 minutes. So now we have 3.5 minutes left. º The next 15 belts are going to take considerably longer since the cutter is so dull and the smoke/fire/heat is getting worse. (I don't need to illustrate any further here because the ones that are left as well as the driver have run out of time) WITHOUT SEATBELTS: º Evacuation ordered by driver º 2 minutes to evacuate EVERYONE FROM THE BUS. To me it's a no brainer...seatbelts on a school bus=higher death/injury rate. Sorry for the long comment but I wanted to get my point across. Feel free to copy and paste this when writing to your government officials.

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