AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a West Brook High School student in 2007, Allison Stoos thought her fight at the Texas State Capitol was finished. After surviving a school bus crash the year before, she and others associated with that accident had just wrapped up work with lawmakers to create the Texas School Bus Seat Belt Program.
“I didn’t have a seat belt on, so I didn’t stay in my seat,” Stoos recalled as she walked the halls of the Capitol Thursday. “I was pulled out of the window and pinned under the bus.”
She and her soccer team were bound for an out-of-town match when their bus rolled over on a rainy highway. It took emergency crews more than an hour to free her from the wreckage.
“I was in the hospital for about a month’s time, while they were rebuilding my arm and having my elbow put back together,” she said. “I’m still permanently injured from that.”
The new law required lap-shoulder seat belts on all new buses purchased by Texas school districts – if state funding was available as reimbursement for the high cost. State budget cuts and little interest from districts eventually led to the law’s failure.
“Everything was in place, and yet the school districts just looked the other way,” said Stoos’ father, Steve Forman, who joined her to resume the legislative push.
Only four of nearly 1,300 districts in the entire state received funding – and no money has been available since 2011.
“The law is there, right?” asked Brad Brown, who met up with Allison and her father, as they visited lawmakers to discuss the issue again. “To be effective, it needs to be funded, and then it needs to be enforced.”
Brown’s own daughter, Ashley, died in that same crash, and he believes – if the bus would have had lap-shoulder belts – she would be alive today.
This month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – that regulates school buses – unveiled a new policy position: all school buses in the nation should have seat belts.
“This policy shift turns it from a ‘why do we have to do this?’ to a ‘why haven’t we done this?’” Forman said.
During the Capitol trip, the trio planned to share that message with with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, whose district suffered a bus crash this fall, killing two students. Garcia has asked Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to add school bus safety to the list of items for lawmakers to tackle ahead of the next legislative session in 2017. At this time, Patrick’s office has not said whether the topic will be part of any interim charges.
They also scheduled time with Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. Lucio was the author of the original law in 2007 and has also written to Patrick, urging lawmakers to further study the issue, considering more funding or a possible statewide seat belt mandate if money is not available.
Either way, Stoos said the law needs an overhaul.
“I really want to see this change go through, because I don’t want other kids to have to deal with what I went through in high school,” she added.