September 08, 2023

Sen. Tammy Duckworth visits Champaign in quest to require school bus seat belts

Source: Illinois Public Media


A few weeks ago, a student in Ohio died and 23 others were injured when a minivan hit their bus on the first day of school.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, visited Champaign on Friday to promote her solution.

“Any fatality or serious injury is one too many when we have proven affordable technologies available today that could prevent such a tragedy,” she said, after a meeting with school officials at the Unit 4 Transportation Center. 

Duckworth has been introducing her School Bus Safety Act since 2018. It would require that all school buses be equipped with seat belts, automatic breaks and other safety features.

She said she has added a cosponsor from Ohio this year and other supporters, like the National Sheriffs Association.

Over a thousand people have died in school bus crashes in the U.S. over the past decade, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most were in the other vehicle. About 50 of those who died were bus drivers and 60 were passengers.

“The school bus is still the safest way for your children and mine to get to school. But we still see fatalities and injuries on school buses, many of which could have been prevented,” Duckworth said.

She lauded the Champaign Unit 4 School District for rolling out a new app, Traversa Ride 360, that allows parents to track their child’s bus. 

While Champaign buses do not have seat belts, Superintendent Shelia Boozer focused her speech on Friday on another issue – the bus driver shortage.

Before introducing Duckworth at the press conference, Boozer said she hopes state and national governments can help with that too.

Boozer said her transportation administrators often fill in as subs.

“Unfortunately, this is a day-to-day reality for them. Mr. [Bradley] Carriveau and Miss [Danielle] Glasgow are often found driving buses to help students to support the District Transportation Department during these tumultuous times,” she said.

As of Friday afternoon, Unit 4 had about as many bus driver vacancies as open spots for middle school teachers.

To tempt new substitute bus drivers, Unit 4 is proposing a sign-on bonus of $2,500.

HR Director Ken Kleber said it could be potentially dispensed as a stipend for those completing the training to become substitute drivers.

“We like to have a backup substitute pool,” Kelber said. “People get sick, people have babies, so we want to have a substitute pool too.”

The Unit 4 school board is scheduled to vote on the idea on Monday. 

By:  Emily Hays