By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

A proposal to require seat belts on school buses in Tennessee drew criticism last week from District 40 Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver.

In remarks to the House Education Administration and Planning Committee, Weaver called the proposed bill “emotionally driven” and “bad policy.”

The bill is sponsored by Chattanooga-area Rep. JoAnne Favors. A Chattanooga school bus crash last November killed six students. Police say the driver was speeding and he now faces vehicular homicide charges.

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
Adding seat belts to school buses and hiring monitors could cost Trousdale County $220,000 annually, according to school estimates.

Weaver said she believes seat belts could potentially endanger students who might not be able to remove the restraints if a bus were to catch fire or wind up in water.

“Since 20009, we have had 11 deaths, children or adult, (on buses),” Weaver said. “A bus can be in flames in two minutes. Going off a bridge into water, we can have 50 to 80 children in one bus. In one accident, that could be extremely tragic.”

Weaver added that she had received letters from bus drivers throughout her district opposing such a measure.

The bill calls for buses purchased starting in July 2019 to have seat belts, and for all buses in use to have such systems by July 2023.

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said he wanted to see more studying of the proposal before deciding whether he would support it.

“On the surface, it seems like the right thing to do in light of the tragedy in Chattanooga,” Satterfield said. “However, there is a lot of information coming from various sources that seat belts would not have saved a single life in Chattanooga. I just want legislators to ensure that the law justifies the means.”

Satterfield said, based on discussions with transportation supervisor David Cothron, adding seat belts to buses would probably increase the price of a bus between $5,000 and $10,000. He also said the need for extra bus monitors would add more costs.

“Early elementary students will be unable to buckle and unbuckle students, therefore, requiring bus monitors on most all buses. This would increase our transportation budget an additional $220,000 for monitors alone annually that the state is not providing and would therefore place the cost on the local county government.”

The House Education Committee delayed discussion of the bill until this week’s meeting. The State Senate version of the bill has been referred to the Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

On Monday, the House unanimously approved companion legislation to create more oversight of school transportation. Among that bill’s requirements are that school bus drivers be at least 25 years old and have five years of unrestricted driving privileges and requiring buses to be equipped with phone numbers on the bumper for complaints.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.