Like most children raised in the 21st century, my children know the importance of wearing their seat belts.
Long gone are the days of bench seats with no belts and kids climbing over the seats mid-drive. In fact, there haven’t been school-aged children who would have known such a lifestyle in over six decades.
The introduction of seat belts has saved countless lives, and as I’m sure anyone who has been in an accident of any severity can attest, people are extremely grateful for their presence.
Seat belts are one of those commonsense technological advances that is so inherently positive that we frequently take them for granted. It’s only when a seat belt is missing or broken that their presence, or lack thereof, is of note.
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Sadly, that may be exactly what’s on the minds of the parents of six children who died just before Thanksgiving in a school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tenn.
In the days and weeks ahead, when the “what ifs” begin to swarm, those devastated parents will inevitably wonder: What if my child had been wearing a seatbelt?
I know, because I’ve asked this question myself in the aftermath of a bus crash that affected my own family.
In March of 2006, my younger sister’s soccer team was on a school-funded charter bus headed to a playoff game when the driver swerved to avoid debris in the road.
The bus rolled onto its side and skidded into a roadside ditch. Two of her teammates died at the scene, while my sister and others were hospitalized in critical condition.
It wasn’t long until the lack of safety belts became an obvious contributing factor in the severity and scope of the girls’ many injuries.
The girls and their parents banded together and took their concerns to the Texas Capitol. Through countless pleas with state representatives and senators, they were successful in making legislative change.
In June 2007, Gov. Rick Perry signed what was being called Ashley and Alicia’s Law (after the two young women who lost their lives in that bus crash), which stipulated that school buses bought after Sept. 1, 2010 must be equipped with three-point lap shoulder belts.
The law also stipulated that by 2011 all charter buses and city buses carrying students and being paid by their school had to have seat belts.
Finally, school bus safety would be a state priority, and if an accident were to happen, the children of our state would be afforded the most basic of vehicular safety precautions.
Or so we thought.
Without adequate funding allocated to a Texas Education Agency-run reimbursement program, and with virtually zero interest from school districts, the program has completely fizzled out.
To my knowledge, only four school districts have complied by equipping their buses with seat belts.
That means more than 1,200 school districts have not and do not plan on complying.
One of the school districts that has complied, without reimbursement, is the one my sister was attending at the time of the crash, Beaumont Independent School District.
The Beaumont district began equipping its buses in July of 2006, almost a year before legislation caught up.
The grieving and distraught parents of the girls involved in the crash and those who realized how easily it could have been their child met with top district administrators to demand change.
By working together, they realized that by ordering only new buses equipped with safety belts, the district could have an all-equipped fleet in just seven years.
It took a tragedy. It took parents waking up to what should have been done long before.
What is it going to take for parents in my Grapevine-Colleyville school district and others to demand change?
What is it going to take for us to demand our school district follow the law and offer our children the most basic of safety precautions?
A close call? An injured student? A fatality? Multiple fatalities?
We spend so much time teaching our young ones how to stay safe, to look both ways before crossing the street, to wait for the walk sign when at a crosswalk and to buckle up when in a motor vehicle.
Why should riding the school bus be any different? Why allow such a contradiction?
Take it from the parents in Beaumont, in Chattanooga and elsewhere, if your child is involved in an accident, the last thing you want to be asking yourself is, “What if my child had been wearing a seat belt?”
This is commonsense. This is the law.
Let’s do what we can for kids.
Join me in demanding GCISD and other districts only purchase new school buses that are equipped with three-point lap shoulder safety belts. Let’s start the countdown to having an all-equipped fleet.
Jaime Adams is a resident of Colleyville and former fashion buyer. When she is not taking care of two small children and a menagerie of animals, she advocates for seat belts for school children.