Seat Belts: Buses Require Safety Measure, But School Buses Too Expensive?

When it comes to seats belts, buses shuttling school children around every day have been missing what seems like an obvious addition.

But this particular safety measure has waited for many years… and it seems like it’ll have to wait even longer now.

The National Transportation Safety Board first recommended seat belts in buses way back in 1968, after a highway crash killed 19 people. Around 29,000 motorcoaches transport about 700 million passengers a year in the United States and an average of 21 people are killed in bus crashes, with nearly 8,000 being injured. But most of the deaths occur when buses roll over.

David Strickland, head of the safety administration, says seats belts in buses are necessary because of this fact:

“Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash.”

So beginning in 2016, all new motorcoaches and some larges buses will be equipped with three-point shoulder seat belts. Although some buses are already equipped with seat belts, they wanted “to ensure that sufficient research and testing went into crafting the new seat belt standard released today.”

Unfortunately, this rule only affects newly built large vehicles and many of these large buses are on the road for about 20 to 25 years, making it unlikely you will actually see any seat belts for years to come. And city transit buses are also not effected by this decision.

Still, Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says safety between cities will increase:

“This is a great victory for the safety of intercity bus travelers. At last, consumers will be afforded the basic safety protections everyone enjoys when they get into their car.”

School Bus Seat Belts

Around 440,000 public school buses carry 24 million children more than 4.3 billion miles a year, but there still won’t be seat belts on school buses to protect the kids. Federal law currently only applies to school buses underneath 10,000 pounds, which generally only affects the short buses intended for transporting the disabled and special needs children.

The standard yellow big school bus falls under state laws and only six states require seat belts. Adding seat belts to new buses only costs about $3,000 for a 54 passenger bus. But adding seats belts to existing large buses requires $40,000 per bus since the seats and floors would have to be redesigned for high impact crashes (as in, they aren’t already?). Older estimates specific to school buses project a cost between $8,000 to $15,000 per bus.

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But the National Safety Council argues the current school buses are 40 times safer than riding in the family car. An average of six children die each year from school bus accidents while 800 children die from walking, biking, or being driven to school by their parents.

Transportation director John Hamilton says school bus seat belts are unnecessary because the seat foam absorbs the impact of their flying bodies:

“The child will go against the seat, and that will absorb most of the impact. Plus, it’s a safety device so that they won’t be projecting through the air.”

The design concept of “compartmentalization” supposedly keeps school bus safety at acceptable levels. They also argue the cost of installing seat belts is “prohibitive” because fewer children could be wedged into each school bus, requiring the education system to increase the fleet size by 15 percent and costing $117 million per state.

Do you think seat belts, buses, and all school buses are an obvious safety combination?