School bus seat belts not recommended by task force following fatal Clark County crash

Group landed on 17 recommendations; some potentially costly for the state

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

A state task force formed following a fatal Clark County crash last year issued 17 recommendations to improve school bus safety in Ohio; mandating seat belts was not one of them.

The task force’s recommendations are expected to be implemented in chunks by school districts, the Ohio General Assembly and executive orders signed by Gov. Mike DeWine.

“They have given us a blueprint that we should follow. Now, it’ll be up to us — and by ‘us’ I mean all of us, the legislature, myself and local schools — to determine whether we follow them,” DeWine said at a Wednesday press conference. “There’s no recommendation in here that I don’t accept. I accept all of them, and I’m committed to do everything I can to get these done.”

The task force was put together by DeWine shortly after a Northwestern School District school bus was hit by a car that veered left-of-center and toppled the bus on its side, tragically killing 11-year-old Aiden Clark last August.

The group’s recommendations include increasing the penalties handed out to drivers who break traffic laws designed to protect buses; mandating a few extra hours of training for drivers and providing advanced training for those interested; creating a state wellness program for bus drivers; developing a relatively costly grant program for districts to apply for funds to retrofit buses with additional safety features, among other things.

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

The recommendations came from a holistic assessment of school bus safety in Ohio, DeWine said, not just an assessment of August’s tragic crash.

Director of Public Safety Andy Wilson, who headed the group through its discussions and lives in Northwestern School District, said it’s not entirely clear if these recommendations would have prevented that particular incident, but that the recommendations would, in theory, reduce the number of crashes overall.

“Clearly, something caused that driver to go left-of-center and hit that bus. What that is, I don’t know. If that bus had been more visible, if it had had (additional features) — I don’t know the answer to that, I don’t know the equipment that it had. We can only speculate at this point,” Wilson said. “But, I think the the concept of putting equipment on these buses that will allow other drivers to take notice of the bus … and avoid that bus is part of what we’re looking at.”

Wilson added that he expected to recommend seat belts but was effectively swayed by the group’s deliberations. He noted that it can cause unintended consequences, including potentially trapping children in dangerous scenarios.

Wilson said the driver of the Clark County bus sent a brief message asking that the group not recommend mandatory seat belts on buses “because the thought of having to cut a kid out of a bus that was burning was too much for that driver.”

The group provided a list of additional safety features that districts could add to their buses with financial help from an intended grant program. It includes seat belts, which run about $19,000 to retrofit, along with a smorgasbord of devices meant to increase a bus’s visibility. Those safety features would cost about $13,000 on average to add to each of the state’s nearly 13,000 active school buses.

Rough estimates put the price tag for all of the group’s bus-specific upgrades around $416 million. Without seat belts, that price would go down to $169 million, roughly.

State Rep. Bernie Willis, R-Springfield, whose district includes the Northwestern School District, said those features are the “gold standard” for a school bus and said he’s in full support of the legislature doing what it can do to allow districts to make as many of those upgrades as possible.

“(I asked the group:) ‘Don’t do a cost-benefit analysis on this. Tell us what the gold standard is for life safety of children on school buses.’ I think they did that pretty well,” Willis told reporters after the press conference. “The goal for me personally is that we break down the barrier where we have to worry about what this costs. Again, life safety issues for children on school buses should be an ultimate, high priority on our list of things to fund.”

Willis said school bus safety has become a critical issue for him in his first term. He noted that crashes don’t just impact parents and students, the impact ripples out to first responders, medical professionals, and district officials.

“It’s very personal for me because, just like Director Wilson, this is in our backyard. Those are people not just in my district, but that’s my voting precinct,” Willis said. “Those are my neighbors, (their) kids are on those same buses going to the same school. This was just a couple of miles from my home, and it’s very personal. Those are people we know and people in our community.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated after publication to correct the name of Aiden Clark.

Follow DDN statehouse reporter Avery Kreemer on X or reach out to him at or at 614-981-1422.

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