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Unsafe School Buses: Why the seat belt law hasn't changed

PHOTO: WZTV

Six students were killed in bus crashes last year and the kids who survive can suffer life-long injuries.

Fox 17's Erika Kurre investigates why buses haven't been made safer with seat belts decades since some Tennessee lawmakers started calling for them.

Hickman County Schools bus crash victim's grandmother, Sheila Damron says, "They're not listening to us. I don't know how to get through to them.."

Damron's granddaughter, Demetria, is seen flying the highest in school bus surveillance video taken three years ago.

No one died in the wreck but Demetria suffered the most severe injuries.

"It's life-long. She'll have pain the rest of her life and probably have to have a hip replacement-- they said 4 - 5 of them."

Damron has been fighting since 2014 to get seat belts on school buses to prevent injuries like this from happening to other students.

But no laws have changed and Tennessee students are paying for it.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol reporting 147-injuries in school bus wrecks in the state just last year.

The Chester County school bus crash on Briley Parkway last November sent 23 students to Nashville hospitals.

That same month, a South Nashville school bus crash injured five more kids.

And six children died in the Chattanooga school bus wreck in November.

The Tennessee Department of Safety says there's room for change in Tennessee law while standing by its claim made to Fox 17 two years ago that school buses are still the safest vehicles on the roads.

Lt. Ray Robinson says, "Can you make school buses safer? I don't think there's any question about that. There's things that can be done."

Lieutenant Robinson says right now, the state's Department of Safety and the Department of Education are working on legislation to make buses safer.

But 2017 won't be the first time the general assembly considers bills on this subject.

Speaker Beth Harwell has been working on legislation since the 90's, wanting all new school buses to start getting seat belts for twenty years now.

Other Tennessee lawmakers have echoed their support.

In 2007, Senator Thelma Harper (D - 19th District) said, "There's been a significant number of bills in previous years regarding seatbelts. I think we're coming to the realization now, that we've got to move on it."

That was ten years ago.

Fox 17 has done some digging and found in almost all five of the legislative sessions since then, bills have been introduced requiring seat belts and restraints on buses or more heavily vetting drivers, and all of those bills have either been withdrawn or stalled in subcommittees.

Metro schools has estimated that it would cost about $12,000 dollars per bus to add seat belts or restraints.

But that's not the only way to make students rides safer.

Lt. Robinson says, "Vetting drivers is certainly one of the things that's at the top of my list that I want to make sure, I want to try to help our school districts."

Tennessee lawmakers headed into this legislative session with a budget surplus.

The Tennessee Department of Education's latest numbers show as of the 2014-2015 school year, one in six school buses across the state have seat belts.

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