The Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — 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.
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.
On Wednesday, about 50 middle and high school students in northern Indiana were treated at hospitals following a chain-reaction crash involving four Wawasee School Corp. buses. Most of students' injuries were minor. Six days earlier, a Lafayette School Corp. bus carrying special-needs students from Mintonye Elementary School in southern Tippecanoe County rolled over on Interstate 65, 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."
Seat belts were not available for students on the Wawasee School buses that crashed about a mile north of North Webster, which is about 40 miles west of Fort Wayne. 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 than what used to be backs of seats."
Three people injured in the accident spent the night in hospitals; two were drivers who were wearing seat belts, Edgington said.
Bartlett said the crash he recalls is from March 2012: Donasty Smith, 5, of Indianapolis died when bus driver Thomas Spencer II, 60, suffered a fatal heart attack and crashed into a concrete bridge pillar in Indianapolis.
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.