• Oct 15, 2008
My wife and I thoroughly trained our oldest daughter on seat belt safety, and it got to the point where she would scream at the top of her lungs if one of us didn't buckle our belts. When she first stepped foot on a school bus, she was terrified to learn that there were no seat belts and didn't understand how school buses were the exception to the seat belt rule. After many years of extensive study, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is changing that, at least for buses weighing under 10,000 lbs. The NHTSA's findings are the same as a 2002 study that smaller buses should receive belts and seat backs should be raised to 24 inches, but nothing was done about the findings back then. A series of bus crashes since has helped build the case to finally require the seat belts on certain buses and taller seat backs for them all.

Part of the reason for inaction was that adding seat belts would decrease seating capacity by 17% while also adding $40-$50 per seat to bus costs. With 25 million children riding 500,000 buses, that adds up to $100 million in annual costs that would, according to reports, save roughly one life per year. Statistics show that about 5 children die each year in school bus accidents, which represents .1 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Kids that travel by bike to school die at a far greater rate of 12.2 per 100 million miles traveled, and kids who walk to school die at a rate of 8.7 per 100 million. The NHTSA's ruling goes into effect November 2011, which is five months before my oldest daughter rides the bus for the last time and gets into her own car.

[Source: Detroit News, photo by gareth_lofthouse | CC 2.0]


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  • 37 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      And the death rate for kids driving their own cars to school?
      I'd think if safety were your primary concern, you'd keep your daughter on the bus.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The kids at the local high school tear out of the parking lot everyday. Then they continue to do 60-70 in a 40 zone and wonder why they get a ticket (my friend's brother cried like a girl and said it wasn't fair when he was pulled over for doing 55). The police, for a month, sat in driveways near the school and pulled over as many kids as they could. Then someone who was high up in the city had a kid who got pulled over and told the cops to "chill out".
      • 6 Years Ago
      I always thought something was wrong not having belts on busses (except the smaller van nosed ones) back when I was in school (late 80's-early 90's). But at the relative low speed most busses travel at, and their weight, dictate that they are still safe to travel in.
      I had been in two bus accidents in all my years of school, and both were low speed impacts that as a rider, I barely felt. Once was the front wheel of our bus driving over the hood of car that had pulled into traffic in front of us, the other was a car that ran a red light, careened off of one bus and then ended up under ours.

      But with my youngest about to head off to school in the next year, you can bet if she's not riding a small bus with her belt on, Mommy or Daddy are driving her to school.
      • 6 Years Ago
      why don't we issue helmets to all students walking to school? Surely that is cheaper then seat belts.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I find it odd to be on the 'no seat belt' side of the argument since I've caught myself buckling up while moving the car out of the driveway, but in this situation, this appears to be a very inefficient reaction to a problem that is microscopic at best.

      For decades, school busses have been constructed with a 'shelter in place' approach. High seat backs to control fore-aft motion. Reinforced crash bars to stiffen the body in side collisions (the multiple black bars on each side...those aren't decorations). Even the arched roof is designed to absorb and disperse energy in the event of a rollover.

      The statistical results as mentioned in the main article speak for themselves. What could be safer than walking? Apparently riding a school bus is. I would have never guessed that the risk of my child dying would increase 87-fold simply by letting them use their own 2 feet. How about we try to ban walking to school instead?

      And then, as Travis mentioned, there's the enormous issue of compliance. I would take a swag and say that 50% compliance (kids actually wearing the belts) would be a herculean task.

      The stock sound bite/augument often seems to be "how much would you spend to save one child's life?". It looks as though we're about to find out. And I doubt the effort will have any significant influence on the year-to-year stats.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I do not understand how adding seat belts will reduce capacity. There is more than enough room to put in belts and not take up any seats, that excuse is plain BS.

      And for people complaining about cost, if you care so much about money over even one person's life then why don't you think about the economic value of saving one kid's life per year. As that person grows up they will add to the economy. But I don't know I grew up thinking a person's life was worth more than just money.

      And finally, has anyone ever taken physics here? Go and watch those You-Tube videos and you will see physics in action. A body in motion stays in motion unless there is a force there to stop it.

      This has almost nothing to do with the mass of the vehicle when being compared to a person's mass.
      The mass of a person is exponentially less compared to any vehicle whether it be a compact car or freight train. Yes there is a difference, but to say a vehicle under 10k lbs is going to be more dangerous and throw a person inside more than a 20k vehicle would with the same collision conditions is stupid. People's bodies are fragile and if a 10k vehicle stops suddenly or a 20k vehicle stops suddenly and they were both traveling at the same speed, the person inside is still going to be going the same speed if they are not attached (seat belted) to the bus.

      Because the mass of the bus is so much greater than any person the bus that will throw any person a hell of a lot, unless that person weighs as much as the bus. Sure a bus will run over a smaller vehicle but what happens if it hits a pole, tree, or embankment, which is just as likely. These are nearly immovable objects and crashing into one is what will kill you because your body will not stop moving even though the bus does, and you will compress right into whatever inner bus part your momentum carries you. It is the rapid deceleration of speed that is going to kill you and a seat belt will slow you down with the vehicle. Not wearing a seat belt will let the vehicle slow down while you go flying forward until you hit something.

      And these stats are not even counting injuries that can cost individuals money. What about that Metrolink Crash in Chatsworth, no seat belt and people were injured in the two cars that were not even damaged because their faces stopped their body momentum as they crushed into the seat in front of them. And that vehicle has far more mass than a school bus. Now those people will probably have back problems and such.
      And all the money and paperwork that goes into dealing with even one death. And emotional damage that cannot even be compensated for. Add these factors add up and they will far exceed the cost of implementing seat belts.

      And why is this only being referred to school buses it should be concerning all buses and trains.

      There should be belts on every moving vehicle, all buses, all trains, etc. It is stupidity that they are not.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is just stupid!

      1) The kids will take them off if they want to.
      2) The driver will never get the kids to put them all on
      3) The kids will kit each other with the metal part taking teeth out,
      4) Only one kid per year might be saved, the money should be used for books and teachers
      5) Did I say that the kids wont put them on?
      • 6 Years Ago
      So, um, this only applies to the smaller buses, under 10K lbs? So only the short buses get seatbelts?

      Anyone else see the irony here?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually, this should apply to all buses, reagrdless of size and passenger capacity. The real irony is the cost in retrofitting those models without the belts, unless you can get funding.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Egon:

      Perhaps you could explain to all the fine readers of this article why the driver of the Schoolbus is granted the privilege of having a seatbelt and not the children sitting two feet behind him/her.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Sure, no problem.

        First of all, the kid 2 feet behind the driver is afforded the protection of an foam padded, energy-absorbing high seatback. Yes, even those in the first row. The driver on the other hand is situated in front of a steering wheel, steering column, dashboard (commonly constructed of sheet metal), and, oh yes, a large, laminated sheet of glass commonly called a windshield. Other than some Type A busses, the driver doesn't even get the benefit of an airbag.

        Secondly, there is a tremendous benefit to keeping the driver situated behind the aforementioned steering wheel. Perhaps he/she can actually steer away from an accident and save, I dunno, 50 or 60 lives instead of getting tossed into the front stairwell where he/she stops being a driver and simply becomes another passenger on a now-driverless bus.

        Those are just the first 2 reasons that came to mind. If I think of any others, I'll be sure to let you know.
      • 6 Years Ago
      We had belts on our school buses in elementary and jr high. This was about 20 years ago. I remember people using the belts to beat the sh*t out of each other. I figured that's why they removed them.
      • 6 Years Ago
      everyone will say it's a waste of money, until it is their own kid that get killed. then the money should have been spent.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes, that's exactly what people will do. However, that doesn't make it right. All costs have to be justified. There are much better ways to spend money than on this. Money must be spent where it will do the most good. If we've done everything else and there's $100mil burning a hole in our pockets, I'm all for the seat belts. Until then, no.
      • 6 Years Ago
      A large bus can't get much safer with belts. In fact lap belts can be more deadly, children can slip through them and choke to death.

      Physics sort of dictate the need for seat belts in smaller vehicles. Due to the speed and volume, a lot of the impact is absorb by the passenger.

      In LARGE school buses its not that true. The small bus for the mentally challenged is another story.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You're right. Lap belts alone are certainly not the answer, but for reasons other than those you cite. In a crash, without upper torso restraint, the midsection remains (more or less) stationary while the torso and legs move forward. The results can be severe or fatal head, abdominal, and lumbar spinal injuries.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Its more an issue of if they buckle up does the drive go and check every kid to see if they are properly belted in a 72 pass bus? I mean come on. Also.. what if the bus caught fire? Is it then the drivers job to make sure all those 72 kids get unbelted safely? I think thats more the problem.
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