Con: Buses built safer, so seat belts not needed

Nov. 11, 2012 at 5:11 a.m.
Updated Nov. 12, 2012 at 5:12 a.m.

About 25 million children are shuttled about 4.8 million miles to and from school each year on buses in the United States.

And with bus crashes making up 0.6 percent of all traffic fatalities, traveling by school bus is one of the safest modes of transportation - safer than walking, riding bikes, or even riding in a family car, said Catherine Howden with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Those safety statistics, plus the cost to install them, lead some people to say seat belts are not necessary on school buses.

"U.S. school buses are required to meet more stringent safety standards than any other type of bus or motor vehicle," Howden said.

She said large school buses, weighing more than 10,000 pounds, are built to experience a lower crash force than passenger cars.

They also have elevated seats that are situated closer together, with high, padded seat backs to absorb energy in an impact. The design of the seats is called compartmentalization, she said, because it should contain the passengers in a crash.

Diane Boyett, spokeswoman for Victoria ISD, said they have seat belts on the special education buses, but not the other buses.

"VISD will certainly comply with any actions of the Legislature and if state laws change, we will provide training for drivers and students in the proper use of the belts and the way to get out of the belts for quick evacuation from the bus," Boyett said. "The safety of students in our care is a critical concern and we train drivers on accident avoidance."

Boyett said a seat belt could add to the safety on a bus, but it could also cause harm.

"A belt improperly used could create other issues. We have children of various sizes riding our buses and the structure of the belt has to be taken into consideration for the safety of the belt-wearing rider," Boyett said.

Additionally, she said, the cost of adding seat belts or buying new buses with seat belts would be a strain on the district, especially since there is no definitive evidence that seat belts prevent injuries.

Boyett said a new bus costs about $95,000. With seat belts, she said the amount increases by about $10,000.

Howden said depending on the number of seats on the bus, a retrofit would cost between $5,485 and $7,346.

The cost, she said, is part of the reason the federal safety office has not recommended requiring the belts to Congress.

"Our analysis found that a federal requirement requiring lap or shoulder belts on large school buses would increase the overall cost to purchase and operate these vehicles and consequently would reduce availability and ridership," Howden said.

If seat belts are mandated on buses, Boyett said, it would be difficult for the drivers to enforce.

"The bus drivers are having to monitor general student behavior. At the same time they are having to be very much aware of what is happening with other motorists," Boyett said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has also found that seat belts don't necessarily increase the safety of the riders.

"In our investigations, we have not found factual information or adequate information to lead us in that direction," said Keith Holloway, public affairs officer, about installing seat belts. "What we have called for is compartmentalizing the seats in order to prevent injuries."



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