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Tennessee Crash Revives Debate Over School Bus Seat Belts

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Just before 3:30 p.m. on Monday, a school bus slammed into a tree and split apart, killing at least five children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, officials said. The bus was carrying 35 students in kindergarten through fifth-grade from an elementary school when it turned over on its side and struck the tree. Twenty-three victims were transported to an area hospital. Twelve children remain hospitalized, six in intensive care.

Officials said the 24-year-old bus driver was driving well over the posted 30 mph limit along a narrow, winding road when the crash occurred. He has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, according to Chattanooga Police. He had a reputation for speeding and had been in an accident two months prior, according to local residents and officials.

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As the investigation gets underway into the driver’s actions and the conditions of the bus, on a much larger scale the NTSB will look at whether seat belts — something the NTSB has been pushing for — would have made a difference. Currently, only six states, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas require seat belts on school buses. Many others, including Tennessee, have considered but dropped such legislation in recent years out of concerns including cost.

We are seeing too many tragic school bus accidents in recent years. Safety must go beyond seat belts. It is time to also focus on safe driving and ensuring that all school bus drivers are properly screened and trained.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters at the state Capitol in Nashville on Tuesday that he wants to have a wide-ranging discussion following the wrecks in Chattanooga, Knoxville and another in Nashville just last week.

“Anybody who saw anything of the Chattanooga situation yesterday, your heart is broken. It’s a tragic situation where you have little kids involved,” Haslam said. “I think that’s part of our job to come back and say, are we doing everything we can to ensure safety on school buses?”

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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