Many people question why seat belts are required for trucks and passenger vehicles but not on all public school buses. The truth is, several reasons factor into this decision, including accident rates and cost of installation, as well as children’s willingness to wear the safety restraints.
Most significantly, school buses are already the safest way of transporting children. Their color and size makes them visible and readily identifiable, and their height provides excellent driver visibility. In fact, according to the National Safety Council, children are 40 times safer riding to school on a bus than in the family car.
Contemporary school buses have been designed strategically different from passenger cars. Children on a bus are compartmentalized and surrounded with high-back padded seats on the inside and the structural integrity of the bus on the outside. This design protects them, much like eggs are protected in a carton.
Smaller buses- those weighing less than 10,000 pounds- that typically seat 6 to 12 students, are required by federal law to have seat belts because of their size. In an accident, these smaller buses would perform similarly to a passenger vehicle because of their reduced weight and lower center of gravity.
There are other reasons the majority of school buses don’t have seat belts.
For one, the sheer size and weight of a fully loaded school bus makes it less susceptible to crash damage than its greatest threat on the road- collision with another vehicle. A 40,000 pound school bus can weigh more than ten times more than an average car.
Additionally, it would not be cost effective to install seat belts on every bus. A University of Alabama study discovered that installing seat belts would have little impact in terms of safety but cost as much as $15,000 per school bus. The tax payers in each state would pay $117 million dollars for seat belts, even if they were phased in over a ten-year period.
And lastly- as any parent who struggles with getting kids to buckle up knows-It is unlikely the children would use the belts correctly, or at all. For instance, the Texas state legislature was considering mandating stricter seat belt laws when a related study concluded that expecting bus drivers to monitor and enforce the seat belt regulations would distract them from safely operating the bus.
Every year in the United States, 25 million children are transported on approximately 450,000 public school buses. However, only about one-fifth of the children traveling on those buses wear seat belts while on board.
While most U.S. school buses do not have seat belts, six states have safety restraint requirements. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas all require seat belts on the standard long yellow school buses, which represent approximately 80% of all school buses used.
Ongoing debates regarding whether seat belts should be mandatory on all school buses further complicates the issue of school bus safety. Current U.S. regulations only require seatbelts on small school buses—those weighing less than 10,000 pounds. A school bus crash test with four “dummies” of different ages wearing seat belts and eight not wearing seatbelts captured the results on video when the bus hit a wall at 30 mph. The dummies wearing seatbelts fared much better than those who were not restrained. The same test was done in a higher speed rollover test. The belted dummies remained relatively unharmed, in their seats.
Those without seat belts were slammed from one part of the bus to another, hitting the roof of the vehicle and other hard surfaces. With these facts in hand, it would appear requiring seat belts in school buses would be a no-brainer. The NHTSA, however has long refrained from requiring seat belts on school buses, claiming such a move would have unintended consequences. The NHTSA says requiring seat belts on school buses would reduce the number of buses available, diverting more students to passenger cars, increasing fatalities and injuries.
If your child was injured in a school bus accident, you could benefit from speaking to one of our knowledgeable Denver bus accident attorneys. Your child’s future could be at stake, so don’t delay. Contact the law firm of Fuicelli & Lee, PC, for a free case evaluation. You pay nothing unless you receive a financial settlement or award. Call our office at 303-355-7202 or fill out our confidential contact form.
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