The issue of seat belts on Georgia school buses has been a controversial one for some time. Although taking the school bus remains the safest way to get to school, some tragedies involving school buses led to federal action over seat belts on school buses.
Federal officials reversed a long-standing policy over seat belts on buses after deadly wrecks two years ago. They recommend lap-and-shoulder safety restraints on all future school bus purchases.
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported only two Georgia counties fit seat belts on their school buses. They are Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
However, all school districts are now evaluating how they may incorporate the revised safety recommendations into their fleets.
Tragedies in Tennessee and Baltimore proved to be the catalyst for federal action. In April 2018, Johnthony Walker, a former Tennessee school bus driver, was sentenced to four years in jail in a crash that killed six elementary school students.
Walker lost control of a school bus carrying 37 Woodmore Elementary School students. Walker swerved and hit a telephone pole and a tree. Walker was charged with six counts of criminally negligent homicide over the November 2016 crash.
In Baltimore, a bus driver crashed his school bus killing himself and five others. Reports later revealed he had been involved in at least 12 collisions or medical emergencies in the five years before the 2016 crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB’s change in position is significant. Previously, the board dismissed the need for seat belts on school buses, claiming the bulk and design of school buses, as well as their high-backed seats was sufficient.
The new recommendations were released in May. At the time, NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said:
“The school bus is still statistically the safest way to get to school.”
Although injuries sustained in school bus crashes are often minor in nature, school bus crashes occur with an alarming regularity.
An AJC investigation just over 18 months found as many as two school bus accidents occur every day in metro Atlanta.
In 2016, for example, just over 300 school students and drivers were hurt in bus crashes in Georgia. About 305 injuries were reported in school bus crashes in 2015. Recently, a 5-year-old girl was killed in a school bus accident in southern Georgia.
There are many good arguments in favor of seat belts in school buses. However, converting buses is costly, amounting to about $10,000 per school bus. Aside from Gwinnett and Fulton counties, none of metro Atlanta’s biggest 10 school districts are equipped with three-point seat belts.
School bus wrecks in Tennessee and Baltimore confirm crashes can be very severe on school buses. Seat belts would almost certainly have saved more lives were they fitted on these buses. If your child is hurt on a school bus, please call The Law Office of Michael West at (404) 913-1529.