After Chattanooga School Bus Crash, Tennessee Lawmakers Say They'll Consider Requiring Seat Belts | Nashville Public Radio

After Chattanooga School Bus Crash, Tennessee Lawmakers Say They'll Consider Requiring Seat Belts

Nov 22, 2016

This week's fatal crash in Chattanooga is causing Tennessee's leaders to take another look at putting seat belts on school buses.

Such efforts have failed in the past. But Gov. Bill Haslam and other senior Republicans say the latest accident — as well as two others in the past two years — show that it's time for lawmakers to reconsider.

The state legislature most recently debated a seat belt requirement after a school bus wreck two years ago in Knoxville. Three people died immediately and the driver was left with severe injuries. He also died a few months later.

That accident, this week's in Chattanooga and a crash last week in Nashville that left nearly two dozen injured shows it's time to think up ways to make buses safer, says Haslam.

"The whole situation, I think, really needs all of us to sit down and look at requirements for driving, requirements for bus safety, and then how do we make certain that's a more attractive job so we can attract the people that we need."

Several districts have struggled to recruit qualified drivers. Haslam says it's not clear whether that has caused districts to lower standards.

It's also uncertain whether more training or seat belts would have helped in Chattanooga. Federal highway officials didn't recommend seat belts until a year ago. They say the design of buses provides children enough protection during most crashes, and seat belts could slow evacuations.

Safety officials have also argued there's no way to make kids actually buckle up.

But Republican leaders say the depth of the tragedy means some response is needed. And that includes potentially setting aside millions of dollars to retrofit school buses with seat belts, says House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

"Something is amiss here. I can't explain it today. We've got to look at it and drill down deep, and then we've got to solve it. It's just heartbreaking."

On the Democratic side, Chattanooga Rep. JoAnne Favors says she's prepared to move forward with seat belt legislation. Favors, who represents the legislative district where the crash occurred, says she will propose the requirement when the legislature convenes in January.