INSPIRATION CAME TO AARON GORDON on a school bus, as his second-grade class from Miami's Lee-wood Elementary School was on its way to a science museum last year. "Our bus stopped short," says Aaron, now 10. "And everybody got, like, jolted out of their seats. I thought, 'Seat belts could stop this.' "
Indeed they could. More than 6,000 kids are injured in school-bus accidents every year, but the National Transportation Safety Board discourages the use of standard lap belts because they can cause internal injuries. Then why not shoulder harnesses? asked Aaron, who gathered 4,000 signatures to show the Dade County School Board that the community was solidly behind him. The board was cordial, even impressed, admitting that "Aaron knew more about this than they did," says his mother, Ruth, an elementary school teacher. But citing the expense, up to $5,000 per bus, the board said no.
Aaron, however, was just warming up. Next he wrote a letter to Betty Castor, Florida's commissioner of education. "I knew who she was from the news," he says. "She just sent me some information on lap belts. It was kind of discouraging." Again, only temporarily. A few weeks later the Gordons took a plane trip, and Aaron noticed the shoulder-hugging straps worn by the flight attendants during takeoff and landing. He thought they could take the place of the more costly combination lap-and-shoulder belts for buses.
Last fall, with the encouragement of Ruth and his dad, Ira, a lawyer, Aaron called Florida State Rep. Daryl Jones of South Dade and wangled an appointment. "I thought it was a pretty good idea," admits Jones, who got the Florida legislature to allocate $25,000 for research. In November staff at the Center for Urban Transportation Research in Tampa began work on a new shoulder restraint based on Aaron's suggestion, which, Jones says, might cost 75 percent less than standard auto shoulder harnesses. "I hope other kids get the message that if you follow through with something, lawmakers will listen," Aaron says.
If the restraint proves workable, Aaron's name will be included on the patent. Someone, of course, will have to remind schoolchildren to buckle up. By now, it should come as no surprise that Aaron has worked out a solution to that too. "People with a certain amount of speeding tickets, or if they were, like, drunk driving, would have to be a monitor on the school bus," he suggests.
Thinking, always thinking.
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