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Seat Belts on School Buses

This article examines both side of the issue of seat belts on school buses.
Updated: December 1, 2022

Seat Belts on School Buses

"Buckle up for safety!" When it comes to car accidents, there's no doubt about it -- seat belts save lives. But what about seat belts on school buses? New York and New Jersey are the only two states that require seat belts on large public-school buses, but across the country a heated debate is brewing. Last year alone, 17 states introduced seat-belt bills. None of them passed.

There are heavy hitters on either side of the seat-belt debate. The National PTA and The American Academy of Pediatrics are in favor of equipping all large school buses with seat belts. But The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) are not convinced that seat belts would increase safety.

Those in favor of seat belts on school buses say that teaching children to buckle up in any vehicle should be a consistent message. But NAPT President Donald Carnahan says, "Seat belts in cars and lap belts on school buses are completely different safety issues."

To buckle up...
The National Coalition for Seatbelts on School Buses lists the following as reasons why all large school buses should have seatbelts. (Smaller school buses that weigh less than 10,000 pounds are already required to have them.)

  • If a crash occurs, the use of seat belts will reduce the probability of death and the severity of injuries to children correctly seated in school buses.
  • Seat belt usage improves passenger behavior and reduces driver distractions.
  • Seat belts offer protection against injuries in rollover or side impact crashes.
  • Seat belt usage in school buses reinforces good safety habits.
  • The cost to install seat belts is nominal.

...Or not to buckle up
Opponents of seat belts on large buses disagree, saying that they are not only unnecessary, but could also be hazardous. According to the NHSTA:

  • Seat belts are of no value in the majority of fatal accidents.
  • More children are killed around school buses -- walking to and from the school bus stop -- than inside school buses.
  • No data proves conclusively that seat belts reduce fatalities or injuries on school buses.
  • School buses are specifically designed with safety in mind. They are heavier and experience less crash force than smaller cars and trucks. School buses also have high padded seats specifically design to absorb impact.
  • There is no guarantee that once installed students will use seatbelts. Studies have shown that mixed and improper use of seat belts can increase the risk of injuries.
  • There is concern that seat belts could be used as weapons to strike or choke other passengers.
  • Money proposed for seat belt installation could be better spent on other safety measures.

Both sides of the debate agree that school bus transportation is one of the safest forms of travel in the U.S. -- far safer than riding in a car. Since 1984, an average of 11 passengers a year have died in school bus crashes, according to the NHSTA. The group is currently researching ways to make school buses even safer. They are accepting ideas through the end of the year.

Source: School Transporation News

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