Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gets off a school bus as part of the first Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group meeting at the Ohio Department of Public Safety Atrium on Sept. 11, 2023. (Photo by Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal).
The newly formed Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group held its first meeting Monday — less than a month after an 11-year-old died in a Clark County school bus crash.
Aiden Clark, a Northwestern Local Schools elementary student, died on Aug. 22 when a minivan going the other way crossed the centerline, causing a head-on collision and ejecting Clark. The bus was transporting more than 50 students to their first day of school and more than 20 students were injured in the crash.
Gov. Mike DeWine quickly formed the Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group after the school bus crash. The 15-member group is charged with looking at school bus regulations, school bus seat belts, and crash risk factors, among other things. The group is expected to make recommendations by the end of the year.
“Some of these issues are continuous,” DeWine said during Monday’s meeting. “Should students have seat belts when they are on a bus? This has been kicked around for a long, long time.”
Fewer than a dozen states require seat belts on school buses and Ohio is not one of those states.
“I’m not going to prejudge it,” DeWine said. “We’re gonna see what they (the working group) come up with.”
He thinks the working group will “have a great deal of weight with the legislature.”
“It’s one thing for someone to come up with some theory or some idea about how we make our buses safer,” DeWine said. “If a working group like this comes back after going through at least five hearings, sifting through a lot of data, a lot of evidence, and comes back with a recommendation that school buses should have certain safety requirements … I think that’s going to carry a lot of weight.”
DeWine came to Clark County the day after the school bus crash and met with the families of students that were on the bus, including Clark’s family.
“We know statistically that school buses are a lot safer than putting your child in a car,” DeWine said. “This is not any kind of solace or consolation to the families in Clark County who had children on that bus who lost a child, had a child injured or was on that bus, and went through the trauma of what happened on that bus.”
Ohio has 19,000 school buses that are inspected twice a year by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
“We understand the importance of making sure the school buses are safe for our students to ride on everyday as their main mode of transportation to and from school,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Charles Jones, one of the members of the working group.
School bus crashes
There have been more than 6,000 traffic crashes involving school buses in Ohio since 2018, said Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson, who is also chair of the newly formed working group.
“We have to put it in context,” he said. “That’s less than 1% of crashes that we have here in Ohio.”
Until last month, 2010 was the last time an Ohio student was killed in school bus crash.
“As you can see, this is clear evidence that our school buses are really the safest mode of transportation that we have here in Ohio,” said Wilson, who is a parent of a student in Northwestern Local Schools.
Nationally, there were 1,009 fatal school transportation related crashes from 2011 to 2020, and 1,125 people were killed in those crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Moreover, 18% of all school bus occupants killed in the crashes were between 5 to 10 years old, according to the NHTSA.
School Bus Safety Act
Last week, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the School Bus Safety Act which would implement safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, including requiring seat belts.
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry about their child’s safety on a school bus, whether they’re traveling to school or a field trip or an away game,” Brown said in a news release. “That means passing additional school bus safety measures into law, starting with our legislation to equip buses with seat belts and other safety measures.”
When asked about this, DeWine said he is going to focus on Ohio.
“I’m gonna stay in my lane,” he said. “Our job is to protect the people of Ohio and the children of Ohio.”
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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