Should School Buses Have Seat belts?

Michigan School Bus Crash Lawyer

Many people may remember the 2016 Chattanooga, Tennessee school bus crash that killed 5 students and injured more than 20 children. While this school bus accident shocked and stunned most of the country, in reality, school bus crashes are more common than most people realize. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that there have been an average of 135 fatalities per year from school-transportation-related crashes since 2003. To make matter worse, there is currently no federal regulation that requires children to wear seat belts on school buses. One of the arguments against school buses having seat belts is actually that the large vehicles are statistically shown to be safer than passenger vehicles. The NHTSA describes how large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passenger vehicles and light trucks do. Strong, closely-spaced seats with energy-absorbing seat backs in school buses are supposed to "compartmentalize" children enough that they are protected without buckling up. 

Another reason many people argue against buses having seat belts is due to the incremental amount it would cost to install them. CNN estimates that seat belt installations inside of a large school bus could range anywhere between $7,346 to $10,296. "Installing seat belts on buses is not free, and requiring their installation might mean reducing funding on other critical safety aspects, such as crossing guards for those children who do walk to school," said Richard Williams, former director of the regulatory studies program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

On the other hand, and possibly more importantly, the NHTSA argues that by adding three-point seat belts to school buses, the average number of lives lost annually in school bus crashes could be cut in half. Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council also makes a good point about installing seat belts on school buses. 

"That's the best protection that we can give our kids. It's what they're used to in cars," said Hersman. "We know that there are very few fatalities involving children on school buses every year-they are a safe form of transportation-but anything we can do to make them safer is really our responsibility." 

Michigan School Bus Accident Lawyer

Currently, there are only six states that have legislation in place requiring buses to have seat belts - California, Texas, Florida, New York, Louisiana, and New Jersey. Despite the lack of regulation around the country, it is important for motor vehicle operators, and especially school bus drivers, to be screened properly and to focus on safe driving. A car, truck, or bus crash may happen at any time, and wearing a seat belt is just one of many ways for drivers to stay safe while on the road.

Incidentally, a similar bus crash to the one in Chattanooga also happened in Anaheim, California. The Anaheim bus slammed into a light pole and some trees, splitting open the left side of the vehicle while students from a middle school were on board. Both of the buses involved in the Chattanooga and Anaheim accidents were driven by 24-year-olds, in clear and dry conditions, and yet, both buses happened to flip onto their sides. The only difference is that the bus in Anaheim was equipped with seat belts and no one was killed.

So, what do readers of The Michigan Law Firm, Blog think? Given the above information, do you think school buses should have seat belts?


Although the government requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts in passenger vehicles for their safety on the road, they don't enforce seat belt safety in all modes of transportation. Although the NHTSA lists school buses as one of the safest modes of transportation for school-age children, due to their safe design with reinforced sides, bright coloring, stop signs, and standard seat size and height, it couldn't possibly hurt to wear a seat belt on a school bus anyway, could it? Have you, your child, or someone else's child been involved in a school bus accident or any kind of bus accident? If so, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC today, at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation. 

Bus Driver Asked Children, "Are Y'all Ready To Die," Before Crashing

Johnthony Walker, 24, was charged with vehicular homicide after allegedly killing 5 children from Woodmore Elementary School, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on November 21, 2016. Walker was a school bus driver transporting 35 children ranging from ages 5 to 10. According to CBS News, more than 20 children were injured and had to be rushed to the hospital after it took nearly two hours for emergency crews to clear them from the accident. Kirk Kelly, the interim school superintendent, confirmed that one of the children killed in the accident was a kindergartner, another was a first grader, and three of them were in the fourth grade. Kelly refused to release the names of the students, but did divulge that 12 of the students have remained hospitalized with 6 of them in intensive care. 

Michigan School Bus Accident Lawyer

The accident was caused by Walker who was supposedly not paying attention and going well over the posted 30 miles per hour speed limit. Jasmine Mateen, whose 6-year-old daughter was killed in the crash, recounts, “My daughter said right before the bus flipped that he was speeding around the curve and asked them ‘Are y’all ready to die?’” According to another boy on the bus, the bus then hit a garbage bag and a mailbox before flipping over and finally wrapping around a tree.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent out investigators to acquire the school bus’ black box. The black box contains data of the vehicles movements which the NTSB will analyze to confirm or deny witness accounts and the local authorities' findings. NTSB chairman Christopher A. Hart says they are focusing on gathering witness accounts and any other evidence pertaining to the accident, including if the school bus had any cameras.

Ms. Mateen had a total of three children aboard the bus, including her daughter who died in the accident. One of the children, who was seated next to the sister who passed away, claims to have seen her sister “smushed” between the seats. Mateen, along with a few other parents whose children rode on Walker’s bus, claim to have complained about Walker’s incessant habit of speeding, before the accident but were unsuccessful in causing action to be taken. 

Michigan Bus Accident Attorney

On whether or not the school district had received the complaints the parents made involving Walker, Amy Kutcher, the Hamilton County School District Spokeswoman, declined to say. Kutcher would only admit to Walker being an employee who was hired by an outside contractor, Durham School Services. “Legally there is no way that we could discipline someone who is not our employee,” Kutcher continued to say, “We’ve got 192 Durham bus drivers. Obviously, this is a bad one.”  
  
The Durham School Services CEO,  David A Duke, did release a statement via twitter saying that the company is “devastated” by the accident and are working with authorities as well as school officials to investigate the crash. The NY Post researched that Durham School Services, "has had 346 crashes over two years, including three resulting in deaths and 142 with injuries, according to federal figures. During that period, it had 53 incidents involving unsafe driving violations."

Michigan Car Crash Lawyer

Walker actually had a sullied driving record. Not only was he found at fault in an accident in which his bus crossed the yellow line on a curve and hit another vehicle, on September 20th, but his license was also suspended for a month in 2014 for failing to show proof of insurance. Aside from a spotty driving record however, it did not appear that Walker had a criminal record in Tennessee. In fact, Walker's mother, Gwenevere Cook assured WDEF, “He don’t hang on the street, he don’t smoke, he don’t do drugs, he don’t drink. He’s never been in trouble, never, ever been in trouble.” Instead Walker was a father to a three-year old and a well-liked bus driver. 

Walker appeared before a judge on November 29, 2016 facing five counts of vehicular homicide and charges of reckless endangerment and reckless driving. According to CNN, a police spokeswoman said that a sixth vehicular homicide charge would likely be added.


School bus accidents are even more saddening than regular bus accidents as they involve children. As heartbreaking as the Chattanooga bus crash was, citizens of Michigan should remember that any type of motor vehicle accident is always possible. Injuries sustained in automobile collisions can be minor or may even lead to death. If you or someone you know has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, including a public bus or school bus crash, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC. Our firm is highly experienced in handling all types of automobile accidents and will fight to grant you any benefits you may be entitled to under Michigan Law. Let us do the hard work while you and your family focus on healing. Contact us, at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.