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Ohio School Bus Safety group begins work. Recommendations expected by year's end

Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Aaron Reimer points to the open back door of a school bus. Gov. Mike DeWine and others watch.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
At the first meeting of the Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group, Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Aaron Reimer opens up the back of a school bus to demonstrate the inspection done on buses. Also attending the meeting was Gov. Mike DeWine (center), who convened the group after a crash that killed an 11-year-old Clark County student in August 2023.

A group focused on school bus safety in Ohio convened its first meeting Monday, three weeks after the death of an 11-year-old student in Clark County near Springfield.

Gov. Mike DeWine, who created the 13 member Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group, joined the meeting, which included an inspection and tour of a bus from one of three manufacturers.

The Ohio PTA called for seat belts on buses a year ago, and bills to increase school bus safety haven’t passed. DeWine said this group will study ideas carefully before making suggestions by the end of the year.

“Whatever their specific recommendations are, we have to take those seriously. We have to look at those, as far as I'm concerned, try to implement them. I think that will have a great deal of weight with the legislature," DeWine said. "It's one thing for someone to come up with some theory or some idea about how we make our buses safer, one person. But if a working group like this comes back after going through at least five hearings, sifting through a lot of data, a lot of evidence, and comes back with a recommendation that school buses should have certain safety requirements in them — it might be a seatbelt or it might be something else — I think that's going to carry a lot of weight with the people of the state of Ohio."

One child was killed and more than 20 were hurt in a crash on the first day of school in German Township in Clark County. The bus was struck by a van while driving the kids on board to school. The bus flipped over and the child was thrown from the bus. The driver was wearing a seat belt, but the students on the bus were not.

Ohio’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has proposed federal legislation to implement National Transportation Safety Board recommendations on school buses across the country. DeWine said he doesn’t want the Ohio working group to wait for a federal law.

"I'm going to stay in my lane, as they say, and stay focused on Ohio. Our job is to protect the people of Ohio and the children of Ohio," DeWine said. "I think our obligation, I take very seriously, and I know members of the legislature and I know our working group does, is for us to get it right in Ohio. And if we have to make changes in our buses, and we have to make changes in training, if we have to make changes in anything else, then, you know, we're going to make those recommendations."

The August crash was the first deadly school bus accident since 2010. More than 6,000 crashes involving buses have been reported in Ohio since 2018, but that’s less than 1% of the car crashes in the state in that same time frame.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.