"We've never unbuckled an injured child;" seat belts a daily routine for Kingsport City Schools
Kingsport City Schools have had them since the 1990's, and students there know that they need to buckle up or be written up.
A topic that's been debated for years is whether school buses in Tennessee should have seat belts.
Kingsport City Schools have had them since the 1990s. Kingsport is about 200 miles north of Chattanooga.
Students there know that they need to buckle up or be written up.
Eight-year-old Justin Torres knows what he has to do before the bus takes off.
Drivers make sure all students are strapped in. The driver pulls over if someone is not belted.
Parent Ashley Torres says seat belts help, but she still worries.
"Every morning when that bus starts rolling off, I start praying for them because you never know what can happen," Torres said.
The same rules apply in the Torres family car.
"In our car, I don't move the car until his seat belt is on. My daughter is strapped in and we're all strapped in. That car doesn't move anywhere," Torres said.
Her son, Justin, admits some classmates don't listen to the rules and the seat belts can be tough to take off.
"Because sometimes it gets stuck or it won't go, so that's some problems," Justin Torres, a student said.
Kingsport city's 44 school buses can fit three small children or two older kids to a seat.
The buses have had seat belts since the 1990's when the school system switched from a contractor to owning their buses.
Concerns have been raised along the way about whether young children could unbuckle in an emergency.
"I've seen the little ones, they can unbuckle them as easy as the older ones. If they're doing it in a passenger vehicle, they're doing it on the bus," Billy Nelson, a school bus driver said.
Each driver has a seat belt cutter close by and knows how to use it.
"It's a fear. Of course, it's a fear. We're not as concerned with not being able to as we are with preventing it to start with," Tommy Starnes, the transportation director for Kingsport City Schools said.
Kids practice buckling up. Drivers practice cutting belts and conduct daily checks to ensure they are working properly.
"There's been a couple of serious crashes over the years, but I can honestly say we've never unbuckled an injured child," Starnes said.
Kingsport buses were involved in ten minor crashes last year. Bus drivers caused six of them. None involved injuries.
In fact, Starnes said there are no reports of a student being transported to a hospital after an incident in 20 years.
"They can't tell me it's not safer. It's got to be safer," Starnes said.
Each bus costs about $110,000. That's $10,000 more than most Tennessee school buses.
"When we purchase new buses, we just purchase them with belts because that's just the way it's been here for quite some time," Assistant Superintendent Andy True said.
Kingsport City Schools transport more than 2,000 children a day.
Administrators said the belts also help with discipline. Students can face suspension if they are warned and still don't buckle up.
In response to the Woodmore bus crash, state lawmakers plan on re-introducing the seat belt bill this legislative session.
Tennessee would be only the 7th state to require seat belts on school buses if it passes.