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Safety on School Buses: Are Seatbelt’s Required?

Posted November 7, 2018 | Uncategorized

school bus safety

October hosted National School Bus Safety Week, yet news of bus crashes continues to dominate the headlines. Across the country, students face dangers at bus stops and within the vehicles themselves. Many of these accidents stem from a failure to observe a bus’s stop sign, but the question remains if injuries could have been prevented with additional safety measures. Here’s what you need to know about bus safety and protecting your child on their way to school.

Laws Regarding Seat Belts on Buses

Currently, no federal mandate exists that requires children to wear seat belts on school buses. However, eight states – New York, Arkansas, Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New York and New Jersey have laws that require seatbelts for all passengers.

Despite the lack of federal law, the American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that all school buses come equipped with seat belts, and the National Safety Council agreed. These organizations note that safety belts are one of the safest ways to protect children and save lives in the event of an accident. While there are very few fatalities stemming from bus accidents in a given year, any measure that could protect children’s lives seems well worth the effort.

Why Don’t We Have a Federal Mandate?

Installing seatbelts seems like a simple and effective way to protect children, so why doesn’t the federal government require it? Some experts state that buses are already safe modes of transportation and that the additional cost does not merit the mandate. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that only four children died in bus accidents in 2014 during school hours, compared to 500 in car accidents during the same period. However, the NHTSA also argues that installing safety belts could decrease the number of bus-related deaths by half.

The U.S. Department of Transportation rejected a proposal that requires the installation of seat belts on all buses in the nation in 2011. Part of their reasoning was the projected cost – the NHSTA estimates that adding seat belts could cost about $7,000- $10,000 per bus.

However, the fact remains that school buses transport 25 million of our nation’s children each year and travel around 5.7 billion miles annually. While crashes don’t occur very often, the results can be devastating.

How Safe Are Buses?

By design, school buses are safer than passenger vehicles and have built-in features that reduce the risk of injury. For example, buses help protect passengers through “compartmentalization,” which involves spacing seats closely together and installing energy-absorbing seat backs.

Smaller buses, however, may not have such protections. As a result, school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds are required to have seat belts under federal law.

Rare, but Devastating

School bus accidents do not occur very often, but the results are often catastrophic. One of the most recent examples involved a school bus in New Jersey in May, which collided into a dump truck on a highway. The bus was carrying 45 students and adults in their way to school field trip. One student and one teacher died. According to reports, all students were wearing their seatbelts and survivors of the crash reported that students were hanging upside down in their seat belts. Without such protections, the injuries and deaths would likely have been much higher.

It’s uncertain if seatbelts will soon become a federal mandate for larger buses. In 2015, the NHSTA announced that installing seatbelts on every bus in America would become a high priority. However, no such plan to require seatbelts on buses nationwide is currently in the works. Whether it will become mandatory in the future remains to be seen.