Buckling down on buses

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email | Twitter

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Starting in September, school buses will be required to have seat-belts, but only the new ones. That means thousands of young East Texans will not be buckled up at all. But that has not stopped the government from proposing more new rules- this time for charter buses.

"The first thing you think is the worst," said Roy Johnson, who admits his opinion's a bit biased about the subject.

Johnson was working in his Jacksonville store, last April, when he got a phone call.  There had been an accident involving a big rig and his daughter's school bus.

"I locked the store and went straight to the hospital," he said.

Roy's daughter, Rachel Barbey, eventually got better.  After the accident, she was flown to Children's Hospital in Dallas with a ruptured spleen.  Roy is convinced a seat belt would have helped.

"It could have been prevented," he said.

John Keller, Jacksonville I.S.D. transportation director, said most of the district's buses do not have seat-belts, but Keller said that does not mean they're not safe.

"All the backs are padded, there are no sharp edges, anywhere, we have sleeping child alarms," he explained.

Keller added the cost would be staggering to retrofit all 60 buses in the fleet with seat belts. But, Keller said if it ever came to it, it would be a challenge he'd have to meet.

"Safety's always important," he said.

The concept now puts motor coaches under the safety microscope. The Department of Transportation is now proposing requiring seat belts in new motor coaches, commercial and charter buses.

The government reports 186 deaths from 54 accidents involving motor coaches since 1999.  Federal officials said most of those deaths could have been prevented if passengers were wearing seat belts.

Chuck Roach owns Chuck's Travel, a charter bus company.  He said his 30 year safety record is squeaky clean.  Roach said he supports the seat-belt concept, but said it is will not be an end-all solution.

"In my opinion, what's killed so many people on the highway, are irresponsible bus companies," said Roach.  "Look at us, talk to us, ask us questions to better police those companies that are coming in for the dime and not the safety."

Motor coach companies would have three years to install lap-shoulder belts.  School districts would not be required to retrofit their old buses with seatbelts, and most transit buses would be exempt.

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