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What price to improve school bus safety?

• Jan 11, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee legislators gave a collective cold shoulder last year to a bill requiring school districts to equip school buses with seat belts. The measure was introduced following a 2016 accident in Chattanooga that killed six elementary students.

Lawmakers balked at the cost of the seat belt bill and instead approved legislation pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to raise the minimum age to be a school bus driver in Tennessee from 21 to 25.

As Press staff writer Brandon Paykamian reported earlier this week, that new law — which also requires enhanced training for all bus drivers — has received mixed reviews from area school transportation officials. Some administrators say portions of the law, along with a ban on texting by school bus drivers already in place, will improve school bus safety.

Others fear the new provisions will make it more difficult to hire and retain school bus drivers.

Driving a school bus is more than shifting gears and opening a door at the stops. Drivers are responsible for the safety of every passenger on that bus.

As we’ve noted many times before, school bus drivers carry precious cargo. Parents, school administrators and taxpayers should insist that the most qualified drivers are hired to transport that cargo.

Finding and keeping the right individuals behind the wheel is not always easy. Low pay and poor benefits have been great stumbling blocks to hiring dependable drivers, but low pay is not the only factor.

Many would-be applicants for the job say they don’t want to deal with the disciplinary problems that plague school systems both large and small.

It’s time to decide what price we are willing to pay for the safety of our schoolchildren. Quick, convenient and cheap solutions are not the answer, and we shouldn’t wait for the next terrible bus accident to revisit the the issue of seat belts.

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