School officials look at bus safety after deadly Knoxville crash - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

School officials look at bus safety after deadly Knoxville crash

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Parents across East Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley are questioning school bus safety, asking if a deadly school bus crash in Knoxville could have been prevented.

Two Knox County school buses collided on Asheville Highway Tuesday afternoon.

Officials say 2 young children and a school aide were killed in the crash. More than twenty other students were hurt. Early reports show the buses, from separate schools, were going in opposite directions on Asheville Highway when one of the drivers made a sudden left turn across the concrete median and crashed into the other bus. The second bus toppled over.

This crash is capturing headlines nationwide and bringing up the old question 'Why don't school buses have seat belts?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation students are 50 times more likely to arrive at school alive if they take the bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends. Officials say school buses do not have mandatory seat belts because buses are built with height, weight and strength that can withstand a serious impact.

"Our hearts go out to those involved; you do everything humanly possible to try and keep that from happening that's why we train and we train and we train here," said Ben Coulter, Hamilton County Schools Transportation Supervisor. "It just makes you take things a lot more seriously."

Coulter showed Channel 3 the rules and mandatory requirement for each school bus on the road. School buses must have flashing red lights, cross view mirrors, reinforced sides, stop sign arms and several emergency exits along the side back and ceiling. Seat belts are not mandatory for buses weighing in at 26,000 pounds.

"They are made to withstand accidents, they are made to withstand even hitting a brick wall," said Coulter.

He says school buses are built to distribute crash force differently than passenger vehicles, so that the structure frame absorbs most of the impact. Seats are also built with "compartmentalization" to keep the child in a safe zone behind a higher absorbing seat back.

"It would have to get hit pretty hard or you could go off the bank or something like that to flip over.  I've never had to worry about that," said Driver Larry Sewell.

Sewell, who has been driving for Hamilton County Schools more than 18 years, says while seat belts do save lives there is a reason why some bus drivers don't want them.

"The only problem I would have with seat belts and younger kids is if you were in a major wreck and the bus catches fire, trying to get everybody out from their seat belts... [with] the little kids it would be hard to do that," said Sewell.

Hamilton County buses travel nearly 19,000 miles to and from schools with more than 9,000 stops each day. On average there are 20-25 wrecks and 2-3 minor injuries from bus related crashes in the county each year.

Nationwide studies show about six children die in bus-related crashes each year, in contrast to more than 600 school-aged children, killed as passengers in other motor vehicles.

In addition to yearly bus inspections, all drivers must have a clean driving record. They must pass a yearly training class with the Tennessee State Highway Patrol and random physical, drug and alcohol tests.

School officials tell Channel 3 a child is more likely to be killed getting on or off the bus, than in a bus related crash. Over the past 10 years an average of 29 children were killed by being struck while getting on or off a school bus.


NHTSA report - Seat Belts on School Buses

School buses and safety

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