AVON LAKE, Ohio — Dr. Rudy Breglia has spent the last few years campaigning for seat belts on Northeast Ohio school buses. Several area school districts — including Avon Lake, Beachwood and Hudson — are making moves in that direction.
Now, Breglia is taking his case statewide. In January, the Avon Lake activist testified before the Ohio State Board of Education, leading to a review of the seat belt issue at the board’s March 8 meeting. No further action has been taken since then, according to a review of the board’s voting agendas and meeting minutes online.
But that won’t stop Breglia’s passion for the issue. He believes that schoolchildren are in grave danger, and it’s only a matter of time before a tragedy happens — again.
In Breglia’s testimony in Columbus, he said: “Current Ohio school bus safety features are inadequate to protect children fully. Every year (across the United States), six to seven children (nine in 2016) are senselessly killed as passengers in school bus crashes, and more than 5,000 are injured.”
He asked the board to consider a resolution that would “encourage Ohio school districts to conduct trials like those in Avon Lake and Hudson, and perhaps follow the current nationwide trend and place seat belts in all their new replacement buses, like Beachwood now requires.
“I believe that these recent exemplary actions by Beachwood, Avon Lake and Hudson will be the turning point in Ohio and will encourage other school districts to protect their children,” he said.
Breglia painted a vivid picture for the board: “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 bus structures, especially when the bus rolls over or has a ‘side crash,’ when children have absolutely no protection.”
He added, “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, he noted, “as children are sent flying down the highway at 70 mph in school buses with safety features based on a flawed 1970s theory and without protective seat belts.
“High-speed travel is a common occurrence in school life that doesn’t make any sense to do without seat belts and is a disaster waiting to happen,” Breglia said.
He also presented a “litigation standpoint” to the board: “Students riding in school buses without seat belts represent a ‘foreseeable harm,’ and substantial evidence now supports seat belts being considered a ‘standard of care’ for school bus safety.
“Furthermore, Ohio school districts face unlimited compensatory damage award liability risk from student injuries as a substantial added cost following a crash.”
Communities need to end the “50-year debate on whether seat belts are effective, and act sensibly to proactively protect our most precious cargo, that over the lifetime of the bus can amount to as low as three cents per student per day,” he said.
Breglia said he stands ready to give a presentation on the need for seat belts in school buses “at any time, any day, to any audience.”
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