NTSB recommends safety changes to school buses

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) District uses about 1,000 school buses for student transportation. They are not equipped with seat belts, and that is something the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) doesn't agree with.

The board is recommending that 42 states enact legislation to require that all new large school buses be equipped with passenger lap/shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions.

The board reviewed and investigated two fatal school bus accidents. One happened in Maryland and the other in Tennessee. NTSB believes if students were strapped in with seat belts - lives could have possibly been saved. The agency says states should take their recommendations seriously.

"We know what we are talking about, and we are recommending what really is a common sense fix for one of the few shortfalls of something as safe as a school bus," NTSB Representative Michele Beckjord said.

The NTSB is also making a recommendation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It wants to require all new school buses to be equipped with collision avoidance systems and automatic emergency braking technologies.

"It's time to get on board and really provide your kids the best possible protection in the best possible way to get to school - which is a school bus," Beckjord said.

Leaders in South Carolina say there has been debate over school bus seat belts for years. Lawmakers couldn't come to a conclusion.

"In case of an emergency, there has to be someone that is responsible for ensuring that those students get out of those seat belts safely and they get off the bus," SC Department of Education Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown said, "So it's an added responsibility onto the school bus driver."

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says a safe ride for students on a school bus is important. He said Thursday the state recently received about a $90 million settlement, and that money could be used to purchase new buses with enhanced safety features.

"I think it's important that students be safe," NC Governor Roy Cooper said. "And if that is one of the things we need to do, then we need to make sure students are safe."

Cooper says before spending the money he wants to first investigate.

"I would want us to study to see our current resources and determine if that is the most efficient way to move forward," Cooper said.

Some school districts worry if states enact legislation requiring new buses be equipped with better safety features - who will pick up the tab?

"Whether that's going to be a burden that is put on the state Or on the individual school districts, that remains to be seen," Brown said.

NTSB thinks the price tag of safer buses may not be an issue if multiple school districts purchase the safer buses.

"The more volume goes up and people demand it the less it costs," Beckjord said.

NTSB realizes it is just an investigation agency and can't force states to change, but leaders say they have a strong record of making good decisions.

NTSB leaders say they will be checking which states are taking or ignoring their recommendations.

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