Seat Belts on School Buses

Most parents, who insist their children wear seat belts in the family automobile, naturally think their child's school bus should be equipped with seat belts too. Their thinking is, "if my child is safer in our car wearing a seat belt, he or she would be safer wearing a seat belt on his/her school bus."

Unfortunately, that may not be the case. Studies conducted since 1969 by the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Academy of Sciences, Transport Canada and others have repeatedly concluded that compartmentalization provides better protection to passengers of large school buses than do two-point lap belts.

Compartmentalization, mandated by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards more than 20 years ago, replaced old school bus seating with strong, well-anchored, closely spaced, high-backed seats – padded both front and back. These are far different from the metal hand bars, waffled metal seat backs and exposed rivets most parents faced when they rode the school bus.

Some have likened comparmentalization to an egg crate – the children, like the eggs, will move in a confined space but are generally protected from impacts by the padded seating and construction. Statistics prove that school buses are many times safer than traveling in a passenger car.

Seat belts on large buses often raise many other questions.

  • With behavior on the bus a major challenge for many drivers, will unruly children use the seat belt and its buckle as an additional weapon.
  • With virtually no way to mount a three-point restraint system, do lap belts alone pose an even greater risk to the children just as they do in a car?
  • Who will make sure all children on the bus – sometimes as many as 70 or more students – have their seat belts fastened?
  • Should the bus be involved in an accident, who will make sure all of the children get their seat belts off? What if the driver is unable to help because of injury?
These questions and the studies conducted by experts in the safety field, lead transportation experts to agree with the position adopted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services – "there is no supportable need for safety belts on large school buses."

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