State lawmakers have reopened the debate on whether to require Connecticut's roughly 10,000 school buses to install seatbelts.
On January 9, 2010, 16-year-old Vikas Parikh was killed in a school bus accident. The Rocky Hill High School student sustained a traumatic head injury while riding a school bus that tumbled down an embankment off of I-84 after hitting another car. Parikh was the first student to die in such a crash in Connecticut in more than 40 years.
As a result of the student's tragic death, state lawmakers reopened the debate on whether to require Connecticut's roughly 10,000 school buses to install seatbelts. The state has tried 23 different times in the last 21 years to pass such a measure with disappointing results. However, Rep. Antonio Guerrera (D-Rocky Hill) is hopeful that the bill he sponsored this term will be passed and other families will not have to suffer the same tragedy as the Parikhs.
There is some indication that Rep. Guerrera may get his wish. In March, a compromise version of Guerrara's bill made it out of the Transportation Committee, marking the first time a school bus seatbelt bill had made it that far in the state legislative process. If passed, the compromise bill would require all new school buses to have lap and shoulder seatbelt systems (sometimes called 3-point system) beginning July 2012. Guerrara's original proposal would have required all school buses in the state - both old and new - to have seatbelts by 2012, which would have been a much more costly requirement.
Connecticut Seatbelt Law Faces Considerable Opposition
Even though Rep. Guerrera won a significant battle just by getting his bill out of the Transportation Committee, the state legislator still faces a significant uphill battle in getting his bill passed into law.
By far, money presents the biggest roadblock to passing the legislation. The estimated cost for installing 3-point seatbelt systems ranges from $8,000 to $15,000 per bus. As currently written, the bill does not include a proposal for paying for the installation. Some lawmakers fear that the burden will be left to already cash-strapped school districts. Other lawmakers feel there is a better use for state funding than the seatbelts, such as giving the money to school districts to improve education.
There also is considerable debate over how much of an added benefit seatbelts will provide to students. Current federal law does not mandate seatbelt use in large school buses (buses weighing over 10,000 pounds). Only six states - California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas - have laws on the books requiring school buses to have seatbelts.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the high-back, flexible seats required by federal regulation in all school buses already make these vehicles extremely safe. The federal agency has maintained for years that adding seatbelts would only marginally improve rider safety at a great cost. NHTSA estimates that adding a lap and shoulder seatbelt system to all school buses in the country would save approximately two lives per year and prevent 1900 injuries.
In 2006, the last year that Connecticut had a seatbelt law up for consideration, the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA) listed several reasons why the state should not adopt a mandatory seatbelt law, including that seatbelts could cause injury, it would be difficult to make sure students actually used them and that they would make it harder to evacuate the bus in case of a fire.
However, those in support of adding the seatbelts argue that they will save lives and prevent injury. They also argue that it will improve student behavior by reducing the opportunity to bully other students and engage in other behaviors that may distract bus drivers. Lastly, they argue that using seatbelts in school buses will promote seatbelt use at home in family vehicles.
The debate in the Connecticut legislature, however, is going to come down to funding and whether it is worth the thousands of dollars it will cost the state to install seatbelts versus the number of student lives that may be saved as result. Of course, for parents like the Parikhs, even one life saved by a mandatory seatbelt law would be enough to justify the expense.
Legal Options Following a School Bus Accident
Whether or not Rep. Guerrera will be able to find enough support to pass his bill this term, schools and the drivers they hire still are responsible for providing safe transportation for children.
If your child has been injured in a school bus accident, you may be able to take legal action against the school, the school district and the driver responsible for causing the accident. If the accident resulted from another driver's negligent acts, then you may have the right to bring a civil claim against that driver for the harm caused to your child.
Some of the damages that may be recoverable in a school bus accident claim include: - Medical expenses - Loss of future earning potential - Disfigurement - Disability - Pain and suffering
If your child died as a result of the accident, then you may have the right to bring a wrongful death action against the responsible party. Connecticut law limits the amount of time within which you may file an action following an accident. For more information, contact an experienced attorney today.
Article provided by Jacobs, Grudberg, Belt, Dow & Katz P.C. Visit us at www.jacobslaw.com
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