SEAT BELT BILL PULLED FOR A YEAR – PVES STUDENTS ADDRESS SCHOOL BUS SAFETY

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Chattanooga Democratic Representative JoAnne Favors seat belt bill has been pulled but could be brought back before lawmakers next year to reconsider.  Tennessee is one of 29 states, according to  NCSL – National Conference of State Legislature, that has introduced bills addressing seat belts on school buses in 2017.  Texas, Arkansas, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana and California have passed variations of stricter seat belt laws but not all states have been able to fund the implementation of the seat belt program within their school districts.

Rep. JoAnne Favors was inspired to bring the seat belt bill to the floor after Chattanooga school bus driver Johnthony Walker, 24, took the lives of six children on the afternoon of November 21, 2017 when he wrecked a school bus with 37 children on board.

JOHNTHONY WALKER, 24, Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Police Department.

Approximately one mile from the school, speeding down Talley Road in Brainerd, school bus driver Johnthony Walker, speeding, lost control of the bus, swerved off the two-lane roadway, crossed a driveway, hits a mailbox then overcorrecting hits a telephone pole before wrapping the bus around a tree. Twenty-three children sustained injuries and were taken to nearby hospitals; ten children walked away from the scene with minor cuts and bruises but were emotionally traumatized.  Five children were pronounced dead on the scene when paramedics arrived and one child died a few days later at the hospital.  Walker was not under the influence at the time of the accident.

Johnthoney Walker was charged with six counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of reckless aggravated assault, one count of reckless driving and one count of using a portable device by a bus driver, according to Hamilton County Police Department.  Walker has plead not guilty to the charges and is awaiting trial.

Pleasant View Elementary School students in Kari Byrum’s fourth-grade enrichment class participated in a project, “Positive Change in our Schools”, and shared Rep. JoAnne Favors concerns regarding school bus safety. The students presented their ideas to members of Cheatham County School Board during the April school board work session.

Students Daniel Schoeneck, Bradley Hudgens, Anna Kate Saylor and Sophie Haggard collectively spoke, presented and requested seat belts on school buses, same as Tennessee Rep. Favors and 29 different state lawmakers nationally.  

Photo of PVES students Daniel Schoeneck, Bradley Hudgens, Octavia Hilton, Anna Kate Saylor, and Sophie Haggard courtesy of Cheatham County School District. www.cheathamcountyschools.net

PVES STUDENTS BELIEVE SEAT BELTS WOULD KEEP THEM SAFER IF A SCHOOL BUS WERE TO BE INVOLVED IN AN ACCIDENT AND WRECK. 

Other safety measures presented and requested included yearly evaluations of first aid kits and training bus drivers in CPR.  Octavia Hilton also individually presented and requested more science classes and labs in elementary schools. 


Rep. Favors seat belt bill continues below YES, THEY SAID IT


On November 21, 2016, only hours following the Chattanooga wreck, Cheatham County School District Three School Board Representative Jennifer Hamblin, mother of two, addressed the Cheatham County Commission suggesting consideration to school bus safety and seat belts.

Cheatham County School Board Member Jennifer Hamblin. Photo courtesy of Cheatham County SchoolS. cheathamcountyschools.net

Hamblin addressed the county commission as a concerned parent and citizen, not on behalf of the Cheatham County School Board.

The following day, November 22, 2016, in Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s statement, he shared Hamblin’s concerns, stating there needed to be wide range discussions around school bus safety and seat belts.

The seat belt bill pulled by Rep. Favors would have required all buses purchased after July 2019 to have seat belts. The November 2016 Chattanooga school bus crash has sparked concerns, controversial seat belt safety debates and review of the hiring processes of bus drivers, not only by the local youth and Tennessee representatives but nationally by students, parents and lawmakers.  Currently Tennessee is unable to fund, implement and maintain the costly seat belt program.  

This is the third time Tennessee has tried getting seat belts on school buses and has failed to get financial support and lawmaker support.  Proposed estimates to fund seat belts on school buses would add an additional $12.9 million dollars to school districts annual budget and $2.2 million annually to the state. Rep. Favors stated she isn’t giving up and will bring the bill back to legislation next year.  


Photo by Tonya Steele

Should Seat Belts Be On School Buses?

We asked and residents responded in a Facebook poll

Provided below are some of the comments received.  

  • “I work on a special ed bus, we have seat belts. They are just like regular car seat belts. I would not recommend for big buses because we have problems getting our children to wear them…If belts were to lock in place it would be bad…and yes, there are 2 adults on small buses.” –Debra Duncan

  • “So torn on this one. Hubby and I got on this topic last night. The belts I have seen are the harness type and can you imagine how hard it would be to get 40-50 kids unharnessed in an emergency? However, when you see those overturned buses you have to think the injuries would be so much less if they had been strapped in.” – Jenn M. Fitz.


  • “There are Good and Bad points on both sides of this subject. If the School Board decides to go with Seat Belts, I hope they faze them in, and not do it all at once. Buses have to be replaced after so many miles, I do believe it is 200,000 miles. When you have to replace a bus, that is when you should have seat belts installed. If you do them all at once, you will be spending money on seat belts for buses that are going to hit their 200,000 mile mark in a year or two. So “IF” the School Board decides to put seat belts on buses, I hope they faze them in to our fleet when they purchase a new bus, and not all at once.” –Rick Wilson 


  • “Who would enforce the students to wear them? I don’t know that it’s a terrible idea but in all reality, bus drivers have their hands full just making sure the kids stay seated until they get to their stop. It seems like it would be costly and inefficient.” –Beth DeMoss.


  • “Money vs lives becomes a moral argument. Feasibility of gettin 100% of children to use them is a hard sell. Fatality rate is too low to mandate their use. Re read first sentence. THE REAL ISSUE? A bus ran the stop sign on Ed Harris and Lockertsville and I couldnt get the bus number because of its speed. No seat belt can restrain carelessness.” –Michael McKellar.


  • I think the big issue is who’s going to make kids put them on and how some kids will tear them up. So it will be a ongoing problem either way. No price for a life, but how many years has there been school busses in this world ? –Sandra Red Gregory


  • When I was a kid…. We left school with people standing in the aisle. No one died. –William Jones


Cheatham News thanks everyone who commented on the Facebook Poll!


(Parties granted permission to be used by the posted Facebook question unless stated, in posted comment response on Facebook, not to use.)  

This poll was done in correlation with TN Rep. JoAnne Favors seat belt bill being pulled by legislation. 

Note:  Cheatham County School District is not considering seat belts at this time. 

RESOURCES: Scroll to the bottom for to find links for the resources used herein to obtain information. 


CHATTANOOGA BUS DRIVER JOHNTHONY WALKER CHARGED WITH SIX COUNTS OF VEHICULAR HOMICIDE

According to Chattanooga Times Free Press, complaints against Johnthony Walker, 24, Chattanooga school district bus driver had complaints reported against him by parents, children and administrators of Woodmoore Elementary. The district’s transportation director had reported complaints against Walker since September 2015.

JOHNTHONY WALKER, 24, Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Police Department.

Additionally the transportation director had received emails and spoken with administration who had previously voiced concerns and spoken with Walker about the complaints.  Five days prior to the accident another complaint was reported. 

According to the Times Free Press, his employment record with the district did not reflect any disciplinary action or issues prior to the accident.

He is being charged on six counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of reckless aggravated assault, one count of reckless driving and one count of using a portable device by a bus driver. Walker has plead not guilty to the charges and awaits trial.


RESOURCES-

To learn more visit the links provided referencing information obtained herein.  

© Cheatham News 2017

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I’m a dedicated, fair and objective reporter/journalist currently reporting and writing for the I-24 Exchange Newspaper, circulated and distributed each week to nearly 10000 residential mailboxes, in Northern Cheatham County, Tennessee.
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1 COMMENT

  1. Seat belts on school buses is a controversial issue debated nationally but few states or school districts are able to afford funding the implementation, maintenance or adding an annual expenditure that would take millions of dollars fund. Do you believe there is a high enough risk to the lives of children on school buses in a wreck to spend millions to implement? Would it be better to spend funding to better vet bus drivers before hiring to transport students? What are your thoughts?

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