An Ohio task force does not recommend mandating seatbelts on school buses

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A statewide task force released its guidance to boost safety among Ohio’s fleet of school buses Wednesday, but mandating seatbelt restraints on all of them was not one of the 17 recommendations made by the 15-member committee.

Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson stands in front of a screen at a news conference
Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson stands in front of a screen at a news conference on Jan. 31, 2024. [Sarah Donaldson | Statehouse News Bureau]
Gov. Mike DeWine assembled the task force in August 2023, after a Clark County crash in the western Ohio community of Lawrenceville fatally ejected 11-year-old Aiden Clark from a bright yellow school bus and seriously injured more than 20 others.

Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson said Wednesday seatbelts on school buses were at the heart of most of the task force’s conversations in the last few months. The restraints have lifesaving value, Wilson said, but the task force ultimately landed on leaving that decision with schools, not the state.

“We became convinced that a statewide mandate of seatbelts on buses is not the most effective use of government resources,” Wilson said.

In the task force’s findings, a survey of bus drivers found that 81% were against the idea of adding seatbelts to their vehicles. Wilson heard that same sentiment from the driver involved in the Clark County crash.

“The bus driver reached out to actually one of my family members and asked them to pass me a message, asking not to put seatbelts on busses, because the thought of having to cut a kid out of a bus that was burning was too much for that driver to bear,” Wilson said.

Instead, the task force recommended a state-funded needs-based grant program for schools to add safety features to their buses. Although DeWine said he is looking to draw on existing sources of money to fund that, it will likely need to go through the legislature.

Rep. Bernie Willis (R-Springfield) lives two miles from the site of the crash. He said with the recommendations out, he plans to push for the legislature to do its part in making them a reality.

“It’s very personal,” Willis said. “For me, I’m not going to let up until we get some things done.”

The task force also recommended more professional training for school bus drivers and enhanced penalties for any driver that violates traffic laws involving a bus. The full list of findings is available here.