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Will School Bus Seat Belts Become Law?
Updated May 5, 2013 12:10 AM | Filed under: WBIW News
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(INDIANAPOLIS) - The death of Donesty Smith in a school bus crash Monday has prompted renewed debate over the need for seat belts and shoulder restraints on school buses.

A new law may not be necessary, however, because parental pressure and liability matters may solve the problem first.

According to WISH Reporter Jim Shella, at IMMI in Westfield, a 50-year old company that manufactures seats for school buses conducts research on school bus safety. They say their research shows that restraints work. All of the seats built at IMMI now come with seat belts and shoulder restraints.

"It's a safety generation," says IMMI Vice President James Johnson. "Children are used to climbing in vehicles, putting lap and shoulder belts on, and sometimes they wonder where are they at?"

Donesty Smith was in a bus built without restraints and even in the six states that now mandate seat belts on school buses, there is no effort to retrofit old buses. The mandates apply only to new buses. Cost is a factor.

"Obviously it's a factor," says John Ellis of the Indiana School Superintendent's Association, "and feasibility is a factor, too, the uses of the bus."

So, while the governor may believe it's time for a new law requiring seat belts on school buses, "You know you can't be too safe where little ones are involved so, it may well be," said Mitch Daniels Monday, the folks at IMMI believe that in a few years buses without restraints will be a thing of the past regardless.

"Think about the airbag in your car," says Johnson. "They didn't make people retrofit airbags but when the technology is available it evolved into a mandate at some later point."

Monday's fatal crash could still prompt action by state government and it could happen even before lawmakers return next January.

"The need for school corporations to have that reviewed by some bus experts is needed right away," says Ellis. "I don't think we should wait."

One of the biggest factors in the adoption of child restraints on buses, believe it or not, is the invention of retractable restraints. Before that seat belts cause more injuries than they prevented, in part because they were used as weapons.

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