Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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May 25, 2013

Crashes rekindle seat belt debate

ELKHART — For video of the Wawasee bus crash, courtesy of WSBT, click here

An Indiana lawmaker who sponsored a bill that would have required seat belts on school buses hopes two high-profile collisions in a span of a week that left more than 60 people injured will spur parents to urge the General Assembly to act.

“I hope parents in Indiana will call their legislator and demand that we protect our babies,” Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis said Thursday. “I think as a legislator we have a responsibility to our children, and we’re neglecting that.”

Bartlett’s bill was referred to the Committee on Education during this year’s legislative session, but no action was taken. Barlett called Rep. Rebecca Kubacki (R-Syracuse) to be on the bill but she declined.

“I just hate to mandate school’s pay for something and we don’t help them pay for it,” said Kubacki.

Legislative leaders said Thursday that lawmakers would review the use of seat belts on schools buses during the summer in a committee set to look at a broad range of education issues.

A Lafayette School Corp. bus carrying special-needs students from Mintonye Elementary School in southern Tippecanoe County rolled over on Interstate 65 last week, injuring a dozen people, including five children.

State police Sgt. Richard Myers said the rollover accident near Zionsville likely could have been much worse if the passengers hadn’t been wearing seat belts.

“In any type of rollover crash you have the probability of serious injuries because of persons have a higher probability of flying out inside the vehicle or falling out of the vehicle and being crushed by the vehicle,” Myers said. “I can’t tell you what they would have been, but the probability of it being a much more serious crash injury-wise is very high.”

Wednesday’s wreck

On Wednesday, about 50 middle and high school students were treated at hospitals following a chain-reaction crash involving four Wawasee Community School Corp. buses. Most of students’ injuries were minor.

Seat belts were not available for students on the Wawasee School buses that crashed about a mile north of North Webster. Superintendent Tom Edgington said he doesn’t think seat belts would have helped.

“I think the accident was a good testament to the engineering and safety of school buses. Our injuries for the type of accident that it was were minimal because of the designs of buses with padded seats and higher (seat backs).”

Three people injured in the accident spent the night in hospitals; two were drivers who were wearing seat belts, Edgington said.

Wednesday’s crash remains under investigation with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department.

The Indiana State Police’s commercial vehicle enforcement section is also investigating.

Chad Hill, public information officer for Kosciusko County police, said that all four buses have been checked and no mechanical problems with the braking systems or lighting were found.

Video was also released from the first and second buses in the crash.

The first bus had stopped to let off a student. The fourth bus, which caused the chain reaction accident, as well as the third bus didn’t have video capabilities.

Police are still waiting on toxicology and drug tests to come back. Those are expected to be available late next week.

No tickets were issued from Wednesday’s wreck Once the investigation is complete, it will be handed over to the Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office. At that point, a determination will be made if any tickets or charges will be handed out.

Time to change?

House Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who worked for 11 years as vice president of safety for United Airlines, said the need for seat belts on school buses isn’t supported by crash data.

He said studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Academy of Sciences and others show that riding on school buses without seat belts is safe. The NHTSA website says the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through “compartmentalization,” which uses energy-absorbent, high seat backs and narrow spaces between each seat to protect children.

“One of the things that makes for good safety is doing good science,” Soliday said. “I believe scientific method being applied before one mandates safety measures.”

A report by NHTSA in 2002 found the addition of seat belts did not improve occupant protection for severe frontal impacts.

Soliday said he would support seat belts on school buses only if scientific studies showed it was worthwhile.

Young voice

One local constituent, a student at St. John The Evangelist Catholic School, voiced her opinion this past winter.

“She sent me a note and asked me to put seat belts in school buses,” said state Sen. Carlin Yoder (R-Goshen). “She’s a pretty forward-thinking little girl.”

Yoder wrote a note back saying that he fully supported the idea and would look into it.

Friday, Yoder met the letter writer, Elsa Lundt.

“As I was leaving (the school), this little girl came up to me and said ‘Remember me?’ So it was pretty cool,” said Yoder.

Yoder takes a pragmatic view at the situation.

“There are some cons,” he said. “I’m no expert on this issue, but we need to look at it. Our number one priority is to make sure our kids are safe.”

Like anything else, money is a factor.

“It may sound great to us but it could be costly to our schools,” said Yoder. “We’d need to find a way to fund it.”

Goshen News writers Roger Schneider and Daniel Riordan contributed to this story.

 

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