Miss. lawmaker calls for seat belts on new school buses

Lawmaker calls for seat belts on new school buses

BENTON COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - Eight students are injured, four critically, after a school bus crash that claimed the life of the driver.

The crash happened in Benton County Tuesday morning shortly after the bus driver is believed to have suffered a heart attack.

Benton County Superintendent Steve Bostick got the early morning call no administrator wants to get.

The bus driver, 63-year-old Chester Cole, lost his life after his bus veered off Highway 72 on the way to school.

“You hate to hear about an accident and try to do everything to promote the safety of the children,” said Bostick.

Questions about safety will certainly be addressed in the coming days.

If one Mississippi lawmaker has her way, school districts in the Magnolia State would start replacing old buses with new ones that are equipped with seat belts.

“I don’t think we can put a dollar figure on saving children’s lives,” said State Representative Debra Gibbs of Jackson.

Gibbs introduced House Bill 1233 this past legislative session. It would put seat belts and on-board cameras in all newly purchased school buses.

Her bill died in committee, but Gibbs says she is seriously considering reintroducing the bill. She says she may take out the portion of the bill that makes seat belts mandatory, instead she would give school districts the option to spend funds on buses retrofitted with the safety feature.

However, her bill may not be necessary. Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House. It’s called the “School Bus Safety Act."

In addition to seat belts, the bill would require school buses be equipped with fire suppression systems and a firewall to keep engine fires from spreading into the passenger compartment.

It would also require automatic emergency braking, an electronic stability control system and an event data recorder.

However, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road.

On its website, NHTSA wrote: "...the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through a concept called 'compartmentalization.' This requires that the interior of large buses protect children without them needing to buckle up. Through compartmentalization, children are protected from crashes by strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs."

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