Back on the Bus: Is Your Child Wearing a Seat Belt on the School Bus?

Across the country, millions of children are heading back to school. However, before they can spend the day learning, playing and growing, they have to get to school.  Some children walk or bike to school. Others have their parents drop them off.

Approximately 55 percent of K-12th grade students ride the bus to school every morning in the United States – that’s over 26 million kids.  However, despite the majority of our nation’s youth riding the bus, only six states require said school buses to be equipped with seat belts – California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.  Even in these states, the laws have exemptions that allow for older busses to continue operation without seat belts or delay retrofitting contingent on state funds.

Why Don’t Most School Buses Have Seat belts?

While there are Federal school bus seat belt requirements, they depend on the size of the bus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires seat belts on small school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but does not on larger school buses. The problem is that large school busses make up more than 80% of the nation’s school bus fleet. Thus it falls to the individual states and school districts to pass legislation or regulations to require buses weighing 10,000 pounds or more to have seat belts to keep them safe in the event of a school bus accident.

The most common reasoning for the lack of seat belts on busses is that due to their larger size, weight, and the height at which passengers ride, they are much safer than other passenger vehicles . The National Safety Council says they’re about 40 times safer than the family car.  However, another reason – a much more alarming one – is that adding seat belts to the nations more than 400,000 busses will cost too much.  Two independent studies concluded that installing seat belts would add anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 to the cost of a new bus.

They also found that seat belts would also take up room that’s now used for seats, meaning “fewer children can be accommodated on each row,” according to the Alabama study.

Currently, busses use a passive safety system called compartmentalization. Bus seats are packed closely together to both maximize capacity AND for safety.  They’re spaced tightly and covered with 4-inch-thick foam to form a protective bubble that is designed to absorb the impact and keep children from flying through the air in the event of an accident. Experts propose that adding seat belts could require school systems to increase their bus fleets by as much as 15 percent just to transport the same number of students.

Other critics hold that younger students may misuse seat belts that could lead to injury or death.  That claim however, is unsupported by fact. In the six states where seat belts are required, there have been no documented injuries or fatalities resulting from use of the seat belts.

While school busses are already one of the safest forms of transportation for your children, wouldn’t adding seat belts make them just a little bit safer?

Featured Image By Caseydchap14 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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