By Mark Barnes
In the wake of last Thursday’s school bus crash, questions were raised in local media about school bus safety. Primarily, the issue is whether or not school buses should have seat belts.
So why do school buses not have seat belts?
The simple answer is that many transportation safety experts say that seat belts in buses aren’t worth it in buses over 10,000 pounds. The costs far outweigh the benefits. In smaller buses you will find seat belts as those vehicles are similar in size to other passenger cars and trucks.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every year on average there are six deaths attributed to school age children in bus related accidents. This is among 450,000 busses travelling 4.3 billion miles transporting 23.5 million children to and from school every day. Statistically, school buses are one of the safest modes of travel among all transportation types. Children are safer riding a school bus to school than being driven by their parents.
Another reason school buses do not have seat belts is that because of the greater mass and weight of buses, passengers are less vulnerable than in a passenger vehicle. Designed with compartmentalization in mind, a school bus contains the passengers within a safety envelope. While the child may be thrown around within the compartment, the design of the seats and bus absorb crash forces. Closely spaced together seats “contain” students within a smaller space between cushioned seats. Seats also have much taller backs that also helps to contain children within the space.
Seat belts are designed to protect against ejection from a vehicle and most are not suitable for small children, often requiring chest harnesses as well. Adding seat belts to a bus also reduces the carrying capacity. According the NHTSA, compartmentalization allows for students to freely leave the bus in the event of an accident to avoid strapped in, upside down students unable to escape a burning or flooding bus.
Idaho state education officials estimated it would cost $14 million to install seat belts in the state’s 2,862 buses. Currently Idaho does not require seat belts in school buses. California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas require seat belts in school busses.
Historically, school bus fatalities are very low in Idaho.
Two students died in a bus crash in October, 1977, in Nampa. One child died and 60 were injured in a Garden City crash in 1969. Both incidents involved large semi truck and a dump truck. A bus driver died in 2002 in Kellog.