Recent debate has been sparked as to whether school buses, those which carry America’s proud youth, should be equipped with seat belts. Many parents petition for laws requiring these safety devices while school districts would rather shy away from this obligation. Disproving some accident-related myths, surprising figures, and cost feasibility analysis help make the argument that school buses, in fact, should not be legally bound to have safety constraints.
1. Traveling by school bus is seven times safer than traveling by car or truck.
Large school buses distribute crash forces differently than other vehicles, thus making the “car to bus” seat belt comparison obsolete. Through the process of “compartmentalization”, the way buses distribute these forces with energy absorbing seats and a highly protective frame, buses are already designed to withstand a crash without the need for seatbelts.
2. Studies have found that seat belts don’t necessarily help.
A 2002 Report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that adding lap seat belts to school buses in no way added to the protection of its occupants after a severe frontal impact. In 1989, the National Academy of Sciences orchestrated a study of ways to improve school bus safety and concluded that the overall potential benefits of requiring seat belts on large school buses were inadequate to validate a Federal mandate. Similar studies concluded that funds that would be invested into installing seat belts on school buses would be better spent in school bus safety programs to result in the lower loss of life in accidents.
3. Roughly two-thirds of school bus related fatalities, 17 per year, occur in the loading and unloading zone.
A common misconception that school bus related deaths are due to rollovers or crashes, most deaths involving school buses occur when passing reckless, motorists strike a youth that is crossing the street. The only preventative measure that can be taken in this sense would to better educate drivers on school bus awareness and adherence of driving laws.
4. Students may not be able to get their seat belts undone after a crash.
If a bus were to catch fire, plummet into a body of water, or find itself in any other terrifying scenario, a young child may not be able to unbuckle a seatbelt quick enough to exit the bus and find safety. After experiencing this traumatic wreck, the most important thing to do after realizing immediate danger is to leave the vehicle as quickly as possible to avoid further injury, such as the bus exploding or sinking, and seat belts may unintentionally work in complete opposition of their original purpose.
5. Equipping school buses with seat belts would result in less seating space.
By taking away from the closely seated compartmentalization design, and would force some students to take alternative means of transportation. These alternative options could put the child in more danger as school buses are physically designed to be built safer than cars and trucks. This structural design is already intended to be safe as it is to transport children without seat belts.
6. It would be nearly impossible to make sure students would wear their seat belts.
Bus drivers would not have the time or the manpower to ensure that every student is properly wearing a lap belt. If Federal law is to mandate the installation of seat belts, bus drivers would never be able to even visually confirm that a student is fastened-in from their limited frontal viewpoint. Also, if the driver would be required to make sure students are buckled up, it could potentially distract the driver’s attention from the road and could actually cause an accident that could have easily been avoided.
7. The costs do not outweigh the benefits.
It would cost between $1,100 to $1,600 per bus to add seat belts during manufacturing, and even more to retrofit a current bus. The total cost of retrofitting school buses on the road today would be an estimated $660 million! An average school bus lasts only 12 years, the program would cost between $44 and $55 million a year! This use of money could better be spent strengthening the frame of the bus, reinforcing the cushioned seats, or providing more in-depth training seminars for school bus drivers on how to drive more safely and handle emergency situations.
Though the argument for both sides of this controversial and relevant argument can be well justified, Federal law authorizing seat belt installation in school buses may actually result in a higher loss of life and a misguided use of tax payer dollars. Other measures can be taken to try and protect America’s children instead of mandating a safety device that may produce adverse effects.