Rudy Breglia is on a crusade and what he wants is simple.
He is asking schools across the region to install lap-shoulder seat belts on buses.
“Having children flying down the highway at 70 mph without seat belts represents a disaster waiting to happen,” he told the News-Times on Dec. 17, prior to an Amherst board of education meeting.
Breglia runs the nonprofit School Bus Seat Belt Safety Alliance, based in Avon Lake, where the public schools are ready to give three-point harnesses on buses a trial run in Spring 2019.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown recently commended the Avon Lake plan, calling it a “common-sense safety measure that is long overdue.”
And after meeting with Beachwood education officials, that city on Monday considered legislation that would set aside $250,000 for the installation of seat belts on new school buses, Breglia said.
The idea was raised by Beachwood third-graders and won over city council vice president James Pasch, who broke his neck and back in a school bus rollover crash wihle in high school.
“This for me is life coming full circle,” Pasch said in a written statement. “It is extraordinary to work with my colleagues on council and at the board of education to prevent what happened to me from happening to any of our students.”
Breglia wants the Amherst Schools to consider a similar effort.
He was moved to action by a November 2016 tragedy in Chattanooga, Tenn., where a school bus rolled over, killing six children and injuring nearly 30 other riders — all except the bus driver.
“I saw that crash in Chattanooga and I knew I had to do something about it. It’s a tremendous waste. If those children would have had seat belts, it may not have saved all of them but it would have saved some of them,” he said.
Ohio school bus drivers have been required since 1986 to wear seat belts. And since 1968, all passenger cars have had seat belts, saving hundreds of thousands of lives, Breglia argued — so why not give children the same life-saving equipment?
Five to six children are killed and 7,000 are injured every year in school bus sudden stops or crashes. According to Breglia and published studies, padded seat backs don’t protect children at all in bus rollovers or side crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board both recommend lap-shoulder seat belts in school buses.
They are also favored by the American Medical Association, National PTA, American Academy of Pediatrics, Physicians for Automotive Safety, Safe Kids Worldwide, and other advocacy groups.
Seven states — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas — require three-point seat belts on school buses.
Breglia said communities that suffer a loss from a school bus crash will typically organize fundraisers for the survivors, honor the dead, and pass regulations to install lap-shoulder seat belts.
“However, all these reactions give little comfort that’s too late for grieving parents and relatives, not relieve the physical and psychological pain of the injured, not reduce the trauma faced by the emergency responders at the site nor diminish the sorrow felt by the entire community from this life-altering tragedy,” he said.
The estimated cost, according to Breglia, is three cents per child per day spread over the lifetime of a new school bus.
Seat belts add eight to 10 percent to the cost of a new bus, he said.