Year after year, band students from a St. James, Missouri high school spend the summer practicing drills and raising money to celebrate the end of band camp. On August 5, they boarded two school buses for their annual trip to an amusement park. Within 10 minutes of their destination, they were involved in a tragic accident that claimed the life of one student and the teenage driver of a pickup truck. Dozens of other students were treated at area hospitals for minor injuries, and a few were admitted with more serious, but not life-threatening injuries.
The accident took place along a stretch of a Missouri highway where road construction had been underway for several months. There were also reports that a vehicle up the road had stalled. What is known is that a tractor, which was not towing a trailer, had slowed as it approached congestion as a result of the road construction. The speed limit in the area was posted at 50 mph. A pick-up truck, driven by a 19-year-old male, ran into the back of the trailer; one bus slammed into the pick-up, and the second bus slammed into the first, pushing it over the pick-up and on top of the truck tractor.
It is unclear whether the pick-up truck hit the tractor before or after it was hit by the bus. The 75-year-old driver of the first bus told investigators that she had moved to the left to avoid a vehicle stopped on the right side of the road. She checked her mirrors and was unable to stop in time after realizing the pickup had struck the truck tractor ahead of her. An accident report by the Missouri State Highway Patrol states that the tractor and pick-up were stationary. Based on physical evidence at the scene and the final position of the vehicles, it does appear that the first bus driver was “inattentive,’ taking her eyes off of the road, and the second bus driver was following too closely. Exactly what happened that morning remains unclear and investigators say it may take weeks to figure it out, although the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says it may be more than a year before it can provide any answers. Would seatbelts have saved the lives of two teenagers?
This fatal auto accident coincides with the start of a new school year. By the beginning of September, students nationwide will be boarding school buses for the next 9 months. Do you believe your children are safe? Does the safety on school buses need to be improved? There have been long-standing concerns for years whether seat belts should be mandated on school buses. Let’s think back to when a child is born. Beginning with the first trip home from the hospital, children are properly restrained. Why when they start school do we decide it is okay to let our kids take their first unprotected ride, and continue to do so for many years to come? Furthermore, how effective can we be at enforcing the use of seatbelts in our own vehicles when we send them on the school bus without them? Seat belts need to be on school buses for the same reasons they are used in cars. Many school buses are old, out-dated, and do not give our children enough protection. Adding seatbelts should be a no-brainer; we know they save lives.
Currently, only 6 states (New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana) have laws requiring seat belts on school buses, although in Louisiana and Texas, they are only required if the school district can get funding for them. The NHTSA says that adding seat belts to school buses would reduce seating space, which ultimately means the need for more buses and more drivers. It would put additional burdens on already financially strapped school districts. Is it me or does that sound like we are putting our children’s lives are risk due to funding limitations? Does this make sense to you? If kids can’t fit on a seat with seat belts, then they should be able to fit on the same seat without them. I have to wonder if seat belts would have changed the outcome on August 5. I welcome your opinion.
“Safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless.” ~ Author Unknown
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder ofLawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and litigation funding consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.