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School Bus Accident Death Revives Seat Belt Debate

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Hartford, CTMost school buses are not equipped with seatbelts. However, a school bus accident in Hartford that killed one student and injured several others has incited a new seat belt debate that might actually get legislation passed.

According to an Associated Press, the school bus was ferrying a group of students to a robotics competition in Farmington on January 9 when it collided with a car on Interstate 84. The force of impact caused the bus to plummet 20 feet down an embankment. More than a dozen occupants were hurt, and Vikas Parikh, a student at Rocky Hill High and the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science, died.

The bus accident has renewed calls for the legislation of seat belts in school buses in the state. On January 11, two days after the crash, State Representative Antonio Guerrera (D-Rocky Hill) submitted legislation to require that new school buses be equipped with seat belts and, possibly, that all school districts' fleets be retrofitted. The General Assembly will consider the bill after the 2010 session convenes in February.

"In my opinion, if it comes down to saving one life, it's worth it," said Guerrera, co-chairman of the legislature's transportation committee.

However, not everyone is sold on the idea of seat belts in school buses. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is on record as saying lap belts could cause riders to bend at the hips during a school bus crash, causing injuries to the head, neck and abdomen. The harness-style three-point belts similar to that found in cars could have some benefits on school buses if used properly, says the NHTSA.

While seat belts are mandatory in smaller school buses that are lower to the ground, there are no such rules in most states for larger buses. Seat belt laws were updated a year ago, requiring that smaller school buses contain three-point harness restraints.

Students transported to school on smaller buses are in the minority. Of the roughly 482,000 school buses on American roads on any given day, about 80 percent fall into the large bus category.

That is not to say that all large school buses are void of seatbelts. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas require seat belts on large school buses—although initiatives intended for Texas and Louisiana are in limbo until financial concerns are resolved.

The car that came into collision with the school bus and thus caused the school bus accident was driven by a 16-year-old male from Glastonbury. As of January 11 no charges had been laid.

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