The Tennessee Highway Patrol has some unanswered questions about a proposed law requiring seat belts on school buses. After two buses collided in Knoxville last month, killing two students and a teacher’s aide, legislators immediately began calling for lap restraints.
There’s a whole debate over whether children are safer strapped to their seats in a bus. Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons says he’s not convinced seat belts would have saved lives or prevented injuries in the Knoxville tragedy.
“Actually, in that particular situation, a seatbelt would not have been helpful – in fact – could have made the situation worse,” Gibbons says. Because one bus flipped on its sides, dozens of children would have been hanging from their harnesses.
There’s a separate conversation about the sheer cost of retrofitting or buying new buses.
Col. Tracy Trott of the Highway Patrol also wants to know who would be responsible for making sure students wear the seat belts.
“Are you going to give a ticket to a 6-year-old? I don’t think so. Are you going to give a ticket to the bus driver? The school superintendent?” Trott asks. “So that would be a very difficult question that would have to be answered before any seat belt legislation in school buses could be passed.”
Rep. Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville) — who is working on a seat belt bill — has not yet filed the legislation. His office says he is still working out the kinks.
Half a dozen states have some kind of school bus seat belt law, but there’s lax enforcement. California even specifically restricts charges against a person or district for not wearing a seat belt on the bus.