Local lawmakers plan to fight for seat belts on school buses
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
As lawmakers head to the state capital to begin a new year and a new legislative session, Chattanooga representatives narrow their focus on making seat belts on school buses a requirement.
The Woodmore bus crash that killed six children renewed the debate of seat belts on school buses.
Billboards across the city are urging the community to support "Act for Woodmore," and sign a petition to get seat belts on school buses. Currently, the petition, sponsored by a local law firm, has 830 supporters.
Representative Gerald McCormick sat down with Channel 3 just moments before he left for Nashville. He said this year could be the year the controversial issue becomes law.
"Sometimes you need an emotional event to spur people to action," he said.
Only two days after the school bus crash in Chattanooga that killed six children, Representative McCormick pledged to write a bill that would require every school bus to have seat belts.
He's joined by Representative Joann Favors, who represents the district where the bus crashed on Talley Road.
"When you have a tragedy like we have had here in Chattanooga, that gets people to focus their attention on it," McCormick said, "I think you need to do it while people still have it on their minds."
Lawmakers estimate it would cost about $33 million dollars to put belts on every bus in the state. Durham School Services said it costs between $12-14,000 to re-outfit a bus to include seat belts.
While most school districts cannot cover that, there's a chance the state could pay.
"I would contend that the state is sitting on a billion dollar surplus right now, this would probably be a good way to spend just a tiny bit of that money," McCormick said.
Six states require seat belts on school buses and safety organizations are split on the issue.
It's unclear if seat belts would have saved any lives in the Chattanooga crash but the National Transportation Safety Board said seat belts have proven to be effective specifically in high-speed rollover crashes, such as the Woodmore crash.
The mother of 6-year-old D'Myunn Brown, who died in the crash, told Channel 3 just hours after she lost her only son, she would be joining the fight for seat belts on buses.
"I really think that something needs to be in place very soon according to seat belts," Diamond Brown said, "Because that man had one scratch on him and that's because he wore his seat belt, those kids didn't have a chance, they don't have a seatbelt."
Backed by many in the community, McCormick thinks 2017 could be the year school bus seat belts becomes law in Tennessee.
"This is so important and it's timely, and I hope we can get it done this year," he said.
The bill would have to pass through five committees and sub-committees before it goes to the House floor for a vote. It could take a couple of months for that to happen.
Channel 3 asked Durham School Services if they had any plans to add seat belts to their buses even if it doesn't become law.
Durham responded by saying they only have seat belts on buses where they are required by state law or by contract.