COLUMBUS — The death of a kindergarten student in a school bus accident has prompted an Ohio House committee to move legislation requiring seat belts in all new buses.
The House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously moved House Bill 448 for consideration by the full chamber, which has not yet taken up the issue.
Rep. Kathleen Chandler, a Democrat from Kent, has offered the bill several times in recent years, but lawmakers have not passed it.
“I think many people feel that it's not necessary,” Chandler said. “They felt that the cost was too much. And the industry argues that the buses are safe. They’re claiming that each seat is a little container, they’re padded and they have high seat backs. They’re saying in the case of an accident, the kids will just bounce around a little and get bruised. But clearly, from the video that we’ve seen and from the terrible accident yesterday, we know that that’s not the case.”
The legislation would require all new or refurbished school buses to have seat belts and shoulder harnesses by 2014, Chandler said. It would not require existing buses to be retrofitted.
“We’re hoping that school boards will put them in as they can afford them,” Chandler said.
The House committee moved the bill on the day that a kindergarten student in Muskingum County was killed after a bus veered off the road and rolled onto its roof.
“Seat belts could have prevented this devastating loss,” Chandler said. “We must get this common-sense law on the books so we can keep our children safe and prevent further tragedies.”
The State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Department of Education are investigating the bus accident. The latter stated that it has been more than 40 years since the last fatality in an Ohio school bus.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Deborah Delisle said in a released statement, “This is a heartbreaking tragedy, and I also express my concern for the other students and bus driver injured in the accident. Additionally, my thoughts are with the staff of this student's school. It is so difficult to deal with this type of loss.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.