A bus line that provides transportation to eight charter schools in the Nashville area says it will install seat belts on its vehicles that take children to and from school.
The Tennessean reports that Gray Line Tennessee plans to add belts to half of its 44 school buses by next fall, and to all of its fleet by the 2018-2019 school year, either through refurbishing existing buses or through the purchase of new buses.
“We think it’s the right thing to do for our schools,” says Chuck Abbott, president and CEO of Gray Line Tennessee.
The bus company's announcement comes about a month after a school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tenn., killed six students. In the aftermath of the crash, many in the state have renewed efforts to require seat belts on school buses. State Rep. Gerald McCormick says he has begun drafting legislation to require seat belts.
Fewer than one in five of the state's nearly 9,000 buses had safety restraints in the 2014-2015 school year, the most recent data available from the Tennessee Department of Education.
Metro Nashville Public Schools has said adding seat belts would cost about $12,000 per bus and would also increase the size of its fleet, now more than 800 buses, because with seat belts, buses hold only two to a seat instead of three.
School buses are already designed to protect children, through padding, high backs and strong ceilings, and it's unknown if seat belts would have made a difference in the Chattanooga crash. But, if an additional layer of safety can be provided through seat belts, Gray Line wanted to add them, Abbott says.
Acquiring new buses with seat belts will cost Gray Line an additional $5,000 to $7,000 per bus. Retrofitting existing buses will cost close to $10,000 because the backs of the seats must be replaced. The changes also will reduce seating capacity.