To the editor:
On Oct. 13, 2001, I was traveling with my son's high school band when our school bus, which did not have seat belts, careened off a bridge and plunged 60 feet into a creek bed. My 14-year-old son, Benjamin, died at the scene. I was critically injured. Three other passengers, including my friend seated next to me, also lost their lives.
Words cannot begin to express the horror of the accident, but one thing is sure. I survived because I subconsciously reached up and held onto the overhead luggage rack as the bus pitched violently over the bridge.
After the impact, all I could think about was getting to my son at the front of the bus. My friend lay dead in the aisle. Students were lying everywhere, having been tossed like pinballs inside the bus when it landed. My son lay motionless in the aisle on top of his friend. As I climbed out of the bus behind rescuers carrying my son, their attempts at CPR failed. My son was gone.
The bus driver was the only person on the bus with the option to buckle up. Properly buckled, he remained in his seat and is alive today.
With 23 million children riding the school bus every day, I continue to wonder why millions of parents put them on school buses not equipped with lap and shoulder belts? My husband and I made that costly mistake, and our son paid for it with his life. We will not allow our other two children to board a school bus again until they have lap and shoulder belts to secure them safely in their seats.
The United States commits millions of dollars to improving the safety of every other mode of transportation and teaching children the value of buckling up. A recent study by the University of Tokyo reported that, in a collision, unbelted passengers become deadly human projectiles.
Now picture a school bus where all riders are unbelted. The study estimates that 80 percent of these deaths could have been prevented with proper seat-belt use.
National School Bus Safety Week began Sunday.
There is no better time for parents and educators to re-evaluate the need for lap and shoulder belts on school buses.
We owe it to our children to make their transportation as safe as possible.