The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Support McElroy Bill for Seat Belts in School Buses; & Federal Mandate Nationwide

Posted on December 09, 2016 at 01:55 PM

The Delta Caucus encourages all of our partners to support Rep. Mark McElroy’s bill to push school districts in Arkansas to buy new school buses equipped with seat belts; this should be a model for states across the country.

Similar legislation should be pushed in the other seven Delta states, and ultimately it’s the federal government that has the financial and national clout to mandate school bus seat belts across America.

Rep. McElroy (D-Tillar), who is one of the Delta Caucus’ senior advisers, rightly says it’s past time to change decades-old assumptions about school bus safety and protect children in the event of a crash. Back in 1977 federal safety regulations only required school buses to employ “compartmentalization”-meaning the box-like space made by higher seats with protective padding.

At the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the first time changed its stance in 2015, when Administrator Mark Rosekind stated that seat belts should be standard on every school bus in America.

The Delta Caucus urges the Congress, the Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration to make the feds put their money where their mouth is and mandate seat belt usage in every bus, which they have not done.

Back in 2011 the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded that requiring seat belts nationally would reduce the number of school children killed each year from five to three.

Why have the feds stated that seat belts are a vital safety precaution that should be in every school bus, but not mandated it? It would require about $10,000 to include seat belts in every seat.

As McElroy rightly says, “Now (federal government officials) say that seat belts do save lives. They stopped short of mandating because of the money. When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

Hey, feds, state officials and bus manufacturers–how much is the life of a child worth? Don’t quibble about $10,000 per bus when children’s safety is at stake.

Why are seat belts in their families’ cars but not when they ride a school bus?

Rep. McElroy filed his bill before the tragic accident in which six school children were killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So McElroy was not just chasing publicity but has advocated for seat belts in buses for a long time.

These accidents have occurred in the past and will continue to do so unless safety standards are heightened. In 2004, a bus in the Siloam Springs, Arkansas area crashed killing one student and injuring seven. In 1983, four students and five teachers were killed when a Jonesboro School District bus crashed.

Local control issue at the state level: The Congress and the President have the financial resources to mandate seat belt usage and provide funding, if they have the will and foresight to do so. However, at the state level, there are local control issues that Rep. McElroy has taken into account.

A bill was introduced in 2001 in Arkansas that required all new school buses to have seat belts and that students wear them. School administrators and bus manufacturers opposed the bill and it died in the House Education Committee.

To allow for local control, McElroy’s bill would require school districts to determine the costs of requiring seat belts on new bus purchases if more than 10% of the district’s voters filed a petition supporting this requirement. Then the district must place a millage tax to cover the costs on the ballot during the next election. If the tax passes, seat belts would be required.

Surely the great majority of school districts would place a very small tax on themselves to pay for safety for school children. Shame on those who don’t, but the local control approach of Rep. McElroy will get over the obstacle that blocked previous efforts.

We would ask for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s support for this long overdue legislation.

Rep. McElroy’s chief adviser on this issue is a seventh-grade student in southeast Arkansas named Hannah Adler, who approached him at the Cattlemen’s Pie Auction in Star City, Arkansas and discussed a project she was working on regarding the use of seat belts in school buses.

In this case a seventh-grade student is a far better expert than lobbyists in Little Rock or Washington, DC.

While passage of this state law ought to be a no-brainer deserving support from both parties in Arkansas and other states, it’s true that the local input could mean that some districts will not require their use.

For that reason, we reiterate that Congress and the White House should mandate national seat belt use in school buses across America as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they ought to do in order to save children’s lives.

McElroy’s experience on this issue goes back literally decades. There was a dangerous episode when at the age of 17, Mark was hired to drive a school bus full of cheerleaders along the then-perilous “Pig Trail” from McGehee, Arkansas to Fayetteville. The Pig Trail of that era wound around mountainous passes and hair-pin turns in the Ozarks.

Delta Caucus partners grilled McElroy about that adventure, because we suspected that his mind was much more focused on the cheerleaders than it was on the road. He confessed that he often was looking in the rear-view mirror at the girls.

By a fantastic stroke of fate, despite McElroy’s inattention, the bus arrived safely in Fayetteville and no cheerleader was harmed.

This proves the ancient saying that “God looks after crazy people and Southern country boys” (we may be repeating ourselves with that last phrase regarding Mark McElroy.)

Call your state and federal officials and tell them to put seat belts in all school buses.

The Delta Caucus/Economic Equality Caucus focuses primarily on community and economic development issues, but we also advocate for key quality of life initiatives, and increasing safety for school children ought to be supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.