Nashville school bus operator to add seatbelts after Chattanooga - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Nashville school bus operator to add seatbelts after Chattanooga crash

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Gray Line Tennessee, a Nashville-based motor coach operator, plans to install seat belts in school buses serving local charter schools in response to the fatal Chattanooga bus crash.

READ MORE | WOODMORE BUS CRASH

Gray Line said it will add belts to half of its 44 school buses by next fall, and to the entire fleet by the 2018-2019 school year, either through refurbishing existing buses or through the purchase of new buses.

Six children were killed in the Nov. 21 Chattanooga crash, which rekindled statewide discussions about school bus safety. Legislation that would require seat belts in buses is likely to be considered in the Tennessee General Assembly during the upcoming legislative session and Metro Council is considering asking Metro Nashville Public Schools to explore requiring seat belts in all new school buses.

“We think it’s the right thing to do for our schools,” said Chuck Abbott, president and CEO of Gray Line Tennessee.

State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, began drafting legislation to require seat belts in the immediate aftermath of the crash. He said in November that the bill could involve retrofitting every bus in the state. Fewer than one in five of the state's nearly 9,000 buses had safety restraints in the 2014-2015 school year, the most recent data available from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Rep. Joe Armstrong pushed for a seat belt law in 2015 but it failed to gain support.

Metro has said adding seat belts would cost about $12,000 per bus and the measure would also increase the size of its fleet, now more than 800 buses, because with seat belts, buses hold two to a seat instead of three.

School buses are already designed to protect children, through padding, high backs and strong ceilings, Abbott said, and it's unknown if seat belts would have made a difference in the Chattanooga crash, in which a school bus was split by a tree. But, if an additional layer of safety can be provided through seat belts, Gray Line wanted to add them, Abbott said.

"If it's another measure of safety we can put into our vehicles, we are going to go ahead and do that," Abbott said.

New buses will cost Gray Line an additional $5,000 to $7,000 to have seat belts. Retrofitting existing buses will cost close to $10,000 because the backs of the seats must be replaced. The changes also will limit capacity, making buses once able to fit three to a seat, limited to two instead, Abbott said.

Gray Line buses serve eight charter schools in Davidson County, including Strive Collegiate Academy, East End Prep and Intrepid College Prep. The company will offer the new or refurbished buses that have seat belts at a premium to help cover the higher costs, Abbott said.

Six states require seat belts in school buses and the National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics has called for seat belts to be included on new school buses.

"It doesn’t make any sense to buckle children up when they are in our personal vehicles and not offer them the same level of safety when they get on the school bus," said Maureen Vogle, a spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, based in Illinois. "Children deserve total safety coverage, no matter where they are riding."

While there are concerns that evacuating children in an overturned bus would be more difficult if they are each wearing seat belts, Vogle said those kind of accidents are "very infrequent."

In 2014, the Nashville Highway Traffic Safety Administration said school buses offered the safest form of transportation for school children. There are nearly 500 fatalities each year of children, age 5 to 18, during school traffic hours in passenger vehicles, compared to four child fatalities in school buses, according to the administration.

In addition to prompting the seat belt decision, Abbott said that the Chattanooga crash reinforced his company's emphasis on safety. He sent out an email to staff expressing condolences for the families and reminding staff that safety is far more important than arriving sooner. The company carries out regular mandatory safety and training meetings and has two cameras on each bus to monitor driver performance and student behavior.

"It's a reminder that this is an extremely important service that we provide our customers," Abbott said. "Our job as an organization is to make sure our drivers are safe and can focus on getting safely from point A and point B, and the drivers have to know that is their primary responsibility."

Read the original story from our NBC partner at WBIR.com

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