Should every school bus in Ohio have seat belts? New push to protect kids

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – A Missouri school bus crash has more people calling for a seat belt requirement on school buses.

Rudy Breglia is among them.

The Avon Lake retiree took up the cause of advocating for school bus seat belts after a November bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killed six children. He now takes his message to local groups and school districts, including through a presentation to the Lorain Rotary Thursday.

“I thought, ‘this is the time for me to take action and get this done,’” he said. “These kids are riding around unprotected. They end up going on highways at 70 miles per hour, and there's no seat belts; there's no protection.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recommended seat belts on school buses since 2015, but it only requires them on smaller buses. The agency notes that children are protected by buses’ unique design, including closely spaced seats with high backs and padding.

But proponents of seat belts, including Breglia, argue that the “compartmentalization” theory only succeeds under certain conditions and does not apply to rollovers.

Six states have laws requiring seat belts, but a 2014 state bill proposing a requirement in Ohio failed. Currently, each school district can decide whether or not its buses have seat belts.

A spokesperson for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District said it has been phasing in seat belts as it replaces buses in its fleet of 290. Only 60 do not have them yet, the spokesperson said, and all are expected to have them by next year.

The Avon Lake City Schools also said it is considering seat belts on school buses.
Opponents cite an average cost of between $8,000 and $13,000 to equip a bus with seat belts. Supporters say that’s a small price to pay for safety.

“The installation of these seat belts would be a substantial, critical improvement to school bus safety,” Breglia said.