Chattanooga crash renews school bus seat belt debate

Federal officials recommend bus safety belts

A horrific crash that left several students dead in Chattanooga, Tenn. is renewing discussion about seat belts on school buses.

Five students were killed, and at least a dozen more were injured in the Monday afternoon crash. The driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, was arrested on five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

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One of the worst Georgia school bus crashes was in March of 2000, when a bus in Murray County collided with a train, killing three children and injuring many others.

Nationwide, 4800 kids are hurt in school bus crashes every year, though only four are killed.

Georgia does not require seat belts on buses.

Only Texas and California required traditional car-style seat belts on school buses, even though they've been recommended by federal officials for the past year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has pushed for seat belts on buses for years, but others claim high-padded seat backs make them unnecessary.

One simulation show what happens in a crash. In it, kids wearing seat belts stay put, while the unrestrained children go flying.

At least one Georgia lawmaker, Micah Gravley of Douglasville, says he's studying the costs and effectiveness of school bus seat belts and hasn't ruled out some type of legislation next session.

Some say the bus ride would also be safer if drivers were safer.

An 11Alive News investigation found bus drivers' traffic violations don't always show up in yearly checks done by school districts, and that criminal background checks are only conducted once every five years in some districts, so it can take years to catch those who may belong behind the wheel of a school bus.

RELATED | 11Alive Investigation: Who's driving your kids to school?

Several school bus drivers told 11Alive’s Valerie Hoff that there's a big shortage of school bus drivers statewide, which has led to longer hours for a lot of them.  They make about $15 per hour, but have precious lives in their hands, and said better pay might attract better drivers.

PHOTOS: Fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga



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