NASHVILLE — A Tennessee company that operates buses for charter schools in Nashville says it plans to add seatbelts to its entire fleet in response to a fatal bus crash in Chattanooga that left six children dead.
Gray Line Tennessee told The Tennessean that it will add seat belts to half of its 44 buses by next fall, and then to the rest of its fleet by the following school year either through retrofitting or new purchases.
Chuck Abbott, president and CEO of Gray Line Tennessee, said the Nov. 21 Chattanooga crash prompted the company's decision and reinforced its emphasis on safety.
"We think it's the right thing to do for our schools," he said.
Authorities say the Chattanooga bus driver was speeding when he wrecked on a curvy road. Johnthony Walker, 24, is facing charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and reckless endangerment.
The crash has rekindled discussions about school bus safety, and the newspaper reports lawmakers are expected to consider requiring seat belts in the upcoming legislative session.
Republican state Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga began drafting legislation to require seat belts right after the crash and said the bill could involve retrofitting every bus in the state. A majority of the state's nearly 9,000 school buses did not have safety restraints in the 2014-15 school year, according to records from the Tennessee Department of Education.
School buses already have features designed for safety, including high-back seats with extra padding and strong ceilings. Abbott said it isn't clear if seat belts would have made a difference in the Chattanooga crash, but it would add another safety feature.
"If it's another measure of safety we can put into our vehicles, we are going to go ahead and do that," Abbott said.