Avon Lake school bus seat belt advocate gives testimony before State Board of Education

AVON LAKE, Ohio — Dr. Rudy Breglia, a self-described “citizen advocate” for lap-shoulder seat belts in school buses, has been taking his mission to any organization that will listen to his story. Results are beginning to develop.

Breglia has influenced several school districts to begin to order the seat belts as they purchase and replace buses. But now he has had the opportunity to appear before the State Board of Education in Columbus to give testimony as to why seat belts should be standard equipment in all school buses.

Breglia gave his testimony before the board Jan. 11. Here it is, edited for length and space:

I am a citizen advocate for protective lap-shoulder seat belts (same as cars) in school buses with no commercial interest. Current Ohio school bus safety features are inadequate to protect children fully.

“Every year, six to seven children (nine in 2016) are senselessly killed as passengers in school bus crashes, and more than 5,000 are injured.

“On Nov. 21, 2016, we all received a ‘wake-up call’ that confirms this inadequacy, when a Chattanooga school bus without seat belts rolled over, killed six innocent children and injured 26 — but not the seat-belted driver. In Ohio, school bus drivers are required to have seat belts since 1986.

“Today, my primary goals are to alert the State Board of Education to children’s current risk during school bus transport and how seat belts can essentially overcome that risk. I’m hoping that the board will allow me to work with your committee that addresses student safety matters to produce a resolution that supports seat belt installation trials similar to those promulgated by several Ohio cities, such as the City of Lorain.

“Your resolution would encourage Ohio school districts to conduct trials like those in (the City of) Avon Lake and (the City of) Hudson and perhaps follow the current nationwide trend and place seat belts in all their new replacement buses like (the City of) Beachwood now requires.

“I’m addressing the board based on your leadership role and your broad responsibility for student safety and pupil transportation.

“Two federal agencies, the National Transportation Safety Board, and many safety/medical organizations such as the National Safety Council recommend seat belts in school buses.

“I know that we all want the safest form of transport for our children and recognize the substantial, critical and recognized added safety benefit and significant improvement in student behavior that seat belts have played in school buses.

“In a school bus crash, unbelted children become airborne, are ejected from a bus or fly freely inside the cabin to hit other kids or internal bus structures, especially when the bus rolls over or has a ‘side crash’ where children have absolutely no protection.

“A recent 10-year North Carolina study found that these types of school bus crashes account for one-third of all their crashes and produce more than 80 percent of the injuries.

“School districts and communities are participating in high-stakes gambling every day as children are sent flying down the highway at 70 mph without protective seat belts in school buses with safety features based on a flawed 1970s safety theory.

“High-speed travel is a common occurrence in school life, such as sports and field trips, that doesn’t make any sense to do without seat belts and represents a disaster waiting to happen. From a litigation standpoint … Ohio school districts face unlimited compensatory damage award liability risk from student injuries as a substantial added cost following a crash.

“Communities that have suffered a tragic loss from a school bus accident will typically organize fundraisers for the survivors, honor the dead, construct memorials and pass regulations to install seat belts in their buses. However, all these reactions give little comfort that comes too late for all concerned.

“Communities need to end the ’50-year debate’ on whether seat belts are effective and act. The installation of seat belts can actually lead to a school district’s cost savings, such as lower insurance premiums, increased driver retention and less driver distraction, with associated reduced crashes and decreased litigation costs. Financial support for trials is available.”

Breglia offered resource materials to the board and said he is available for any questions or further presentations to audiences or individuals, in person or by phone.

“Like fire extinguishers,” Breglia said, “seat belts represent an absolutely needed precaution to avoid catastrophic loss. The installation of seat belts in school buses should be a priority for all of us. Seat belts save lives.’”

For more information on Breglia’s campaign for school bus seat belts, he can be contacted at [email protected].

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