belts] improve safety, mitigate exposure to student injuries in accidents and the biggest is im- proved student management on the bus which removes distrac- tions for our drivers,” Hinerman explained, echoing findings and recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Tennessee is not one of the nine states that has a law or regulation requiring these school bus occupant restraint systems (bills have consistently failed in the state legislature, despite a push following several high-profile crashes). But the Tennessee Department of Education provided funds to school districts for installing the lap/shoulder belts on newly purchased buses. The funding was made available in response to the 2016 Chattanooga crash that killed six students.

Hinerman said he used the grant to get the three-point

belts on his school buses. But paying for the installation of seatbelts is only half the battle, and cost should never be a factor in ensuring student safety, Hinerman argued. The more important aspect, he added, is training staff and students on the proper way to buckle up, and how to unbuckle in the case of an emergency. “We have conducted bus evacuations with all students

on these buses. Students are secured in their seats and are able to get off the bus in under two minutes with no issues,” Hinerman said. He added that nearly all of his routes have district at- tendants, who help ensure that students are wearing the lap/shoulder seatbelts correctly. This also helps drivers remain focused on the road. “We have a strict policy and district expectations of being safe, respectful and responsible on the bus, and our school administrators take the use of seatbelts seriously,” Hinerman explained. “Violations will result in bus suspen- sions. Riding the bus is a privilege. Students and parents are held accountable for not following the safety expec- tations on the buses. If we do not enforce these rules, we could have another Chattanooga. It’s that serious.” Meanwhile, Kingsport City Schools, located in north-

east Tennessee, implemented two-point lap belts on its school buses back in the late 1980s. Now, said Transpor- tation Supervisor Albert (Tommy) Starnes, the entire fleet of 44 route buses have lap/shoulder belts, and only about three backup buses still have the lap-only restraints. Starnes, who has been supervisor for the district for the past five years, said the district has had a seatbelt policy in place for the past two decades.

Students at Robinson County Schools in Tennessee ride on school buses equipped with

three-point seatbelts. Joshua Hinerman, director of student transportation, said the

systems improve safety and student management.

Starnes explained the district has had two instances of

a fire breaking out on the bus, while students were wear- ing seatbelts. But no injuries were reported. One bus was carrying elementary-aged students, while the other in- stance involved middle- and high school-aged students. In both circumstances, students unbuckled themselves and safely evacuated. “It’s always more of an issue teaching [students] how to fasten the seatbelts than it is teaching them how to get out of it,” Starnes commented. Starnes said his district is continuously teaching ele-

mentary school students how to use the restraints, and the topic is included in evacuation training. He said at the start of each year, the district drives a bus to every elementary school, and bus drivers teach the proper use of the lap/ shoulder seatbelts. He added that the drivers don’t leave the schools until the students are all familiar with the systems and are able to buckle and unbuckle themselves. “Our drivers are required to keep the elementary stu-

dents in their seatbelts,” Starnes said. “If they are driving down the road and they see one has not buckled his/her seatbelt, the drivers will stop the bus, emergency stop if necessary, and put the student back in their seatbelts.” He added that if middle or high school students don’t

wear the restraints, a report is usually sent to the school district for proper follow up. “I am an advocate for seatbelts,” Starnes said. “I really see the benefit of seatbelts. I see that discipline is a whole lot better, and the students are a little more controlled.” However, Steve Daniels, safety and training specialist

for Hernando School District in Florida, isn’t as con- vinced. His district installed lap belts in 2001, when the state of Florida mandated them. Currently, the district has about 150 buses with the lap belts and seven buses with the three-point belts. “I am a firm believer of the compartmentalization theory, whereas the students are better protected this way,” Daniels said. 37

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