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Fatal Crash Reignites Ohio Seat Belt Debate

Gov. Mike DeWine announced the formation of a safety task force that will be charged with finding ways to improve safety on school buses, including possibly requiring seat belts. Last week an Ohio school bus crashed, killing one student and injuring 23.

A week after an Ohio school bus accident killed one child and injured 23 others, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the formation of a task force, charged with finding ways for the state to improve school bus safety – including the possibility of requiring seat belts on all public-school buses.

DeWine made the announcement while visiting Mentor Public Schools Wednesday to observe the state’s school bus inspection process.

The 13-person Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group includes members from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, South Euclid Lyndhurst School District, and representatives from the state departments of public safety, education, insurance and transportation, as well as an Ohio parent.

The group will hold at least five public hearings and is expected to issue a report in December with its recommendations, DeWine said.

In addition to school bus seat belts, the report will include recommendations on topics such as:

  • School bus regulations
  • School bus design, maintenance, and inspections
  • Driver licensing, certification and training
  • School bus safety technology
  • Crash risk factors
  • Lessons learned from other school bus crashes
  • Alternative transportation and associated risks
  • Safety of special populations
  • Critical incident protocol

“There’s nothing more important than our kids, and we’ve got to keep them safe,” DeWine said Wednesday. “They’re safe now on these buses, statistically a lot safer than being in a car, but can we make them safer? That’s the question I’m asking this working group, and we will listen to what their answer is.”

Noting that the debate over seat belt usage on buses has been going on for decades, DeWine said the fact that some states require them, while others don’t, is an indication that there are pros and cons to both sides.

“I’m not the expert, and I don’t pretend to be, and that’s why we’re putting this working group together, and that’s why we’re asking them to bring in the best information they can, the best studies that have been done and to make the evaluation,” DeWine said on mandating seat belts. “It’s like a lot of things in life; you have to weigh it. We have one goal, and that goal is to protect our children and to be as safe as we can.”

The task force won’t have the authority to impose mandates. But DeWine said the group’s recommendations will carry a lot of weight, and that the state plans to “take action” based on them.

Currently, each school district decides for itself whether to install seat belts on buses. DeWine said it’s possible that the state ends up mandating the use of seat belts as a result of the working group’s findings, but that would raise the question of how to pay for it.

On Wednesday, the State Highway Patrol’s inspection of the Mentor buses included checking headlights, mirrors, tire tread and the engine compartment. Every district’s fleet is inspected in this manner twice a year. DeWine said that improving bus safety is an “ongoing process,” but he noted that the deadly bus crash has brought new weight to the issue.

A Clark County school bus was carrying 52 students to their first day of class on Aug. 22, when a 2010 Honda Odyssey driving the other direction crossed the center line. Although the Northwestern Local Schools bus driver tried to avoid a collision, the Honda hit the bus, causing it to flip on its side. One student was thrown from the bus and died, another 23 were injured and taken to a nearby hospital.

“There’s no doubt that this horrible tragedy that occurred last week makes us think about this some more and reexamine it and ask the question, which is the question everyone has been asking me the last week – is there anything else we can do to make our buses safer?” DeWine said. “That’s the right question, and we need to go find out what that answer is.”

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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