WHY DON’T OUR SCHOOL BUSES HAVE SEATBELTS?
By Rachel E. Montes on Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Why is it that our most precious gifts, children, are not as protected as they should be? Tragically, most of the operating school buses in the U.S. do not have seat belts or similar restraints to protect our children in the event of an accident. The kicker is, for buses that are under 10,000 pounds, federal law requires a restraint system, but that’s only a small proportion of the school buses in use, and generally used for transporting disabled and special-needs students. As such, they fall under the purview of cars, light trucks and passenger vehicles because of their similar low weight and center of gravity.
But larger buses, the buses that the majority of our children ride, are much heavier, and higher. As a result, the passengers on the bus sit higher, and this is supposed to be a safeguard in collisions. For those, federal education and transportation agencies leave the decision up to the states. And so far, only six require seat belts to be installed.
School and transportation officials cite two main reasons for declining to install seat belts:
• Cost. Separate studies by the NHTSA show that installing seat belts would add anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 to the cost of a new bus while having little to no impact on safety.
Seat belts would also take up room that’s now used for seats, meaning fewer children can be accommodated on each row. That could require school systems to increase their bus fleets by as much as 15 percent just to transport the same number of pupils, it suggested.
• Safety. Numerous safety agencies say seat belts aren’t the best choice for children, which is why nearly all states
require container-like full car seats for younger kids in passenger cars.
Looking at both sides of the equation, the pros and cons are obvious:
Education children to buckle up.
Seat belts often prevent litigation.
Using seat belts improves behavior on school buses.
Installation of seat belts in school buses would cost less than $2.00 per child – a small price to pay to prevent serious injury or death.
Seat belts prevent students from being thrown out of their seats if their bus is involved in an accident.
School buses have an excellent safety record. Therefore seat belts are not a necessary expenditure.
Seat belts are not effective in most school bus crashes.
Though the cost per child to install seat belts in school buses is low, multiply that by thousands of buses and the cost is astronomical.
Seat belts prevent students from exiting the bus quickly if fire or water is involved. A bus driver cannot help all students escape if they are belted and the bus is sinking in a lake or other body of water.
The installation of seat belts doesn’t mean they will be used. Drivers cannot be expected to police proper use of seat belts. This would mean helping young students adjust belts each time they got on the bus.
Seat belts may be a hindrance in catastrophic events such as earthquakes or flash floods.
Seat belts could be used as weapons if a dispute occurs between students.
Students who fail to use installed seat belts could cause serious injury to students nearby should a crash occur. They would slam into belted students who would absorb a double impact.
There are no federal standards to outline proper installation of seat belts in school buses.
Because a school bus weighs tons and is large, collision impact is absorbed by the mass and the crash force is far less than that felt in an automobile.
Students on school buses are protected because they are above the impact zone if a crash occurs.
School buses travel at the speed limit or less. Since speed is a factor in a large percentage of accidents, bus fatalities occur less often than automobile fatalities.
There are many pros and cons to the school bus seat belt controversy. Now that you are aware of the pros and cons, you will be able to make an educated decision on the controversial subject.