The fatal bus crash last Saturday in which a promising high school student's life was taken has predictably resulted in opportunistic state legislators trying to grandstand the issue.
What happened to the student is a tragedy. Nobody disputes that. However, Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill has proposed legislation to mandate the use of seatbelts on school buses. Such a proposal would be extremely expensive. In a state where school districts are already struggling to balance their budgets, adding an expense to bus contracts through another unfunded mandate is short-sighted and could force districts into making painful cuts in other areas to accomodate the additional expense.
Such legislation fails to address several potential concerns, among them who would enforce the wearing of seatbelts? Would the driver have to check every student who gets on the bus to make sure their belts are fastened? Would school bus companies have to hire bus monitors for every school bus to ensure compliance? What would happen if students refused to wear seatbelts? What about state laws that already require children of a certain weight to sit in booster seats? How would these students be accomodated? Obviously there are numerous obstacles to climb.
The case in Hartford on its face indicates that if this young man was wearing a seatbelt, he likely would have survived the accident. However, what about in cases where a bus catches on fire? Would students who are belted in be able to or have the mental acuity to release themselves from seatbelts?
Unfortunately, there are no clear and fast answers. Nothing can bring back Vikas Parikh. We are left behind to debate the issues surrounding his tragic death. But we also need to make sure that in order to honor Vikas' memory, we do not go off half-cocked and pass legislation without properly considering all factors. The Connecticut State Police still have to complete their investigation, which may show that there were other more compelling factors that led to this tragedy. We need to be patient, take a deep breath and move slowly.