Saturday, December 10, 2016

Seatbelts on School Buses

Recently, a school bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee crashed causing the death of five children. This is a tragedy. You don't hear stories about deaths on school buses very often. When I do, I wonder, why don't school buses have seat belts? This seems like a no-brainer. Like many things, when you dig deeper, it is more complex than that. 

Currently, the US has five states that require seat belts on school buses (California, New York, Louisiana, Florida and New Jersey). Considering that lists of states, I am guessing that the rest of the country is going to follow. When I google this question, the big thing that does come up is the cost. It costs from $7k to $10k to add seat belts to a school bus. A lot of school districts are already strapped for money.

One of the arguments against this is that school buses are already very safe. Only four children die on school buses each year while 500 die during the same travel time in automobiles. It is also safer than walking to school which is what I did as a kid. I got into all kinds of trouble on my trek to school each morning. Why are school buses so safe? For one, school buses are driven slowly and usually, by a better driver. Also, cars tend to maintain a distance from a bus, I know I do, even when it is not required of me. School bus seats are also very padded and high. If a younger kid is thrown, chances are they will hitting the back of another seat's thick padding. This helps with quick stops, but not with rollovers. The chances of a bus rolling over is very unlikely. Spending money to prevent something that isn't a problem is hard to justify. In hindsight, I am sure the parents in Chattanooga probably feel that it would be a good investment.

Also, there are some logistical problems. If there is an accident, how difficult would it be to get kids out of the bus? The older kids would be fine, but the younger ones would need assistance. If there is a fire or a gas leak, you want to exit quickly. Try getting a bus load of preschoolers to take off their seats belts and exit a bus in a timely fashion, especially during the mayhem of an accident. Sounds messy. I would also imagine it would be difficult finding a one-size-fits-all belt.  Since shoulder belts are the only seat belts that are effective, you'd have to get one that would fit preschoolers comfortably and safely as well as high school students. You don't want a child to be strangled by a belt that is intended to save them.

Who enforces the seat belt use? You can have them on the bus but that doesn't mean that every student is going to use them. Does the driver or bus monitors have to guarantee that every student is wearing them before the bus takes off? How much work is this? Is this going to slow down traffic and increase the liability of the driver and/or monitor? What about the 6th grade boys (there is nothing more obnoxious than an 6th grade boy) who want to use their seat belts as weapons or nooses? It almost seems like seat belts would be more a problem than a solution.

Like most things labelled a "no-brainer," this is not one. I came up with more and more issues, the more I thought about this issue. I talked to one teacher and one bus driver before writing this. I am sure that there are others that disagree with them, but they seems right to me. We are better off without them.

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