Many people may remember the 2016 Chattanooga, Tennessee school bus crash that killed 5 students and injured more than 20 children. While this school bus accident shocked and stunned most of the country, in reality, school bus crashes are more common than most people realize. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that there have been an average of 135 fatalities per year from school-transportation-related crashes since 2003. To make matter worse, there is currently no federal regulation that requires children to wear seat belts on school buses. One of the arguments against school buses having seat belts is actually that the large vehicles are statistically shown to be safer than passenger vehicles. The NHTSA describes how large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passenger vehicles and light trucks do. Strong, closely-spaced seats with energy-absorbing seat backs in school buses are supposed to "compartmentalize" children enough that they are protected without buckling up.
Another reason many people argue against buses having seat belts is due to the incremental amount it would cost to install them. CNN estimates that seat belt installations inside of a large school bus could range anywhere between $7,346 to $10,296. "Installing seat belts on buses is not free, and requiring their installation might mean reducing funding on other critical safety aspects, such as crossing guards for those children who do walk to school," said Richard Williams, former director of the regulatory studies program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
On the other hand, and possibly more importantly, the NHTSA argues that by adding three-point seat belts to school buses, the average number of lives lost annually in school bus crashes could be cut in half. Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council also makes a good point about installing seat belts on school buses.
"That's the best protection that we can give our kids. It's what they're used to in cars," said Hersman. "We know that there are very few fatalities involving children on school buses every year-they are a safe form of transportation-but anything we can do to make them safer is really our responsibility."
Currently, there are only six states that have legislation in place requiring buses to have seat belts - California, Texas, Florida, New York, Louisiana, and New Jersey. Despite the lack of regulation around the country, it is important for motor vehicle operators, and especially school bus drivers, to be screened properly and to focus on safe driving. A car, truck, or bus crash may happen at any time, and wearing a seat belt is just one of many ways for drivers to stay safe while on the road.
Incidentally, a similar bus crash to the one in Chattanooga also happened in Anaheim, California. The Anaheim bus slammed into a light pole and some trees, splitting open the left side of the vehicle while students from a middle school were on board. Both of the buses involved in the Chattanooga and Anaheim accidents were driven by 24-year-olds, in clear and dry conditions, and yet, both buses happened to flip onto their sides. The only difference is that the bus in Anaheim was equipped with seat belts and no one was killed.
So, what do readers of The Michigan Law Firm, Blog think? Given the above information, do you think school buses should have seat belts?
Although the government requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts in passenger vehicles for their safety on the road, they don't enforce seat belt safety in all modes of transportation. Although the NHTSA lists school buses as one of the safest modes of transportation for school-age children, due to their safe design with reinforced sides, bright coloring, stop signs, and standard seat size and height, it couldn't possibly hurt to wear a seat belt on a school bus anyway, could it? Have you, your child, or someone else's child been involved in a school bus accident or any kind of bus accident? If so, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC today, at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.