A West Tennessee congressman is urging federal authorities to start requiring seat belts on school buses, rather than waiting for districts and states to take action.
Memphis Democrat Steve Cohen pressed the leaders of the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at a hearing this week to explain why they hadn't acted on its own recommendation that school buses have restraints. Cohen says accidents like last year's fatal rollover crash in Chattanooga show that the need for seat belts is urgent.
"Six school-age children were taken — 'too early' is not the right term," he says. "They were taken, and that was wrong. No more precious cargo is there for any commercial carrier than children."
Cohen added that investigations into five other accidents since 2010 have shown seat belts can save children's lives.
NTSB's acting chairman, T. Bella Dihn-Zarr, told Cohen the agency is already asking school districts to buy buses with seat belts as they purchase new vehicles. But she added, making them mandatory is worth considering.
"There's certain types of crashes, like a rollover crash or a side impact crash, where having a three-point seat belt is very important," she said.
Federal authorities are also looking into whether medical fitness or poor screening for drivers could be factors in crases, Dihn-Zarr said.
A measure in the state legislature that would require seat belts on Tennessee school buses has been delayed until next year's session. Skeptics say that it’s not clear seat belts would make children safer.