Perry County school bus crash video reignites debate about seatbelts

Local News

THORNVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — Northern Local Schools Superintendent Tom Perkins says all the students injured in a bus crash in December are back in school and continuing to heal.

But, he said, Monday’s public release of video of the crash from inside the bus was not helpful.

“I was nauseated,” Perkins said. “To relive that and to see that as the students saw it, I felt bad for the families and the students who had to relive it.”

The video shows students being tossed around in the bus after it was broadsided by a car, spins and rolls over. The students, some of them screaming and crying, then scramble to get out.

Eight students were transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

“When you see that, the emotion tells you that students wouldn’t have been flying around the bus had they been in seat belts,” Perkins said. “But you don’t know what would have happened had they been in seat belts.”

Perkins is among many who hold firm in the long-standing belief that students are safest in school buses without seat belts.

“Buses are constructed much differently than vehicles,” Perkins said. “They’re much larger to take the impact and the seats are compartmentalized.”

“As you look at that horrific video, imagine half of those students hanging there in a seatbelt and no one able to cut them out,” Perkins said. “Any injuries that occurred could have been worse.”

Rudy Breglia started the School Bus Seat Belt Safety Alliance in northeast Ohio. He said the theory of compartmentalization – using padded, high-backed seats – is meant to minimize injuries, not prevent them.

“The theory is most effective when the bus is going forward, when it’s going slow and all the children are seated properly, sitting upright, facing forward with both feet on the ground,” Breglia says. “If any of those conditions are not met, the theory starts to fail and it fails completely when you have rollovers or side crashes.”

In 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation that all new large school buses be equipped with lap and shoulder belts.

About a dozen states now require or strongly recommend seat belts on school buses.

In Ohio, the Avon Lake and Beechwood school districts have started trials with a couple of new buses equipped with seat belts.

State Sen. Nathan Manning of North Ridgeville is planning a meeting of interested parties to discuss the issue of seat belts on school buses, according to his office.

Breglia said while the crash video from Perry County is difficult to watch, it is also instructive.

Watch the bus driver, he says, the only person on the bus wearing a seat belt.

“He popped out of that seatbelt, stood up, was alert and aware,” Breglia says. “He directed the children to give them advice on how to escape and that’s exactly what would happen with the children if they had seatbelts. They’d be maybe a little shaken up, but they’d be aware and they would be uninjured.”

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