School bus accident raises safety concerns (photos included)

By Mark Bullock - bio | email

DALE COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - A traffic accident in south Alabama is once again raising the question -- should school busses have seat belts? A bus flipped over Tuesday afternoon in Dale County. As many as 16 students were sent to the hospital.

Nearly 50 students were riding the bus when it tipped over on a dirt road, which had gotten muddy in the rain. The crash happened off County Road 59 near Dale County High School.

Most of the injuries were just cuts and bruises, but it begs the question, could all the injuries have been avoided if school busses were equipped with seat belts?

"No one in the nation has that data now," said the University of Alabama's Dan Turner. "We have no way to estimate the improvement."

But that's about to change. A pilot program is testing seat belts on school busses in ten Alabama school systems. It's expected to take three years to complete.

"We need to make the right decision. We need to make it timely, but we need to make it with a deep body of research," said State School Superintendent Joe Morton.

Governor Bob Riley spearheaded the program after a deadly school bus crash in Huntsville two years ago.

"After the tragedy that happened at Huntsville, we began to ask ourselves a question -- is there anything we could have done to prevent that tragedy?" Riley said.

The governor inspected one of the specially equipped school busses in Northport Monday.

State troopers are investigating Tuesday's accident in Dale County.