Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

Dear Editor: Seatbelts in Buses!

Dear Editor,

I write concerning the van versus bus accident in our area recently. Upon reading the editorial in the Whitehall Ledger on 12/01/2021, page 5, concerning photos of these accidents, especially an accident where there has been a fatality, I totally agree. In my life I have had the unfortunate experience to come on to scenes where there were fatalities, prior to first responders arriving. I totally agree with no photos; forgetting what one sees in person is hard enough as it is.

This is not the purpose of this letter. There is an elephant in the room here, however, and I do not believe many folks see it, but I do. That is seat belts/harnesses in school buses. I happen to drive a school bus and we take classes every year and have seen the result of school buses in accidents (some actual photos and some that they call simulated accidents) be it a head-on, side collisions, or rollovers. Some with seat belts, some without; those without, well, no words can explain that except horrifying.

Where that accident occurred is my route as well as my partner’s, except he travels it about 15 minutes prior to me. I was not sure what time the Whitehall bus went by in the mornings but knew it did. Now what I saw that morning I suppose I was meant to see. I left my home at 7:13 AM and when I got to Hwy 2 I saw a patrol car go by with lights flashing. I was on Mormon Trail; they were not diverting traffic yet, so I stuck by my route, not really knowing what had happened yet.

As I got closer to the flashing lights, I was not even sure if maybe it was not on the Interstate. So, I did not know if I could keep going or not, as I approached and parked behind the fire trucks, etc. I could not see what had happened.

A deputy approached me and told me I had to turn around; he helped me back out of there and as I backed up, I looked forward quickly; I had a full vision of that bus sideways in the road and listing to the left. I knew this was not good. I had no idea who the bus belonged to, and my heart sank. I could tell it was a very serious accident and prayed that there were no children on that bus yet, and if there were children that the bus was equipped with seat belts/harnesses! I did not hear until later that the driver of the bus was not injured. Thank God, my heart does go out to her.

I did not know at that time until that evening that the bus had a passenger, and that the child had not been injured either. Thank God for that also.

As school bus drivers, we transport the most precious cargo in the world, and school buses are the safest well-built vehicles on our roadways; except some do not have seat belts and some do. It is up to the school district as of now to make that decision, I believe, but sooner or later I am sure it will become mandated. After seeing that bus and finding out it was a small vehicle that hit it, I can’t imagine the consequences if there would have been more children on that bus, or if the vehicle that hit it were a larger one.

The technology is there and has been for several years. It is truly time to address this issue. What I witnessed the morning of 11/29/2021 proved that to me. Every time I drive by that site, four times a day, I think of what could have been more of a tragedy than it already was.

Tom Salvagni

Whitehall, Montana


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