A No-Brainer? NHTSA Wants Seat Belts In School Buses, But States May Fight It

Most school buses in this country don’t have seat belts, a startling fact when you realize that every year, four children die in crashes. Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is trying to change that.

After years of denying the necessity of seat belts in buses, the NHTSA wants every single one in the country to be outfitted with them, NBC News reported.

The NHTSA’s recommendation was just made on Sunday, but given the NHTSA’s own contention in past years that school buses don’t need seat belts — complete with very convincing and reasonable arguments as to why — those recommendations could result in some pushback from states.

An industry group, the National Association for Pupil Transportation, has already balked at a federal regulation. The group argues that the decision is up to states, but only six outfit school buses with them right now.

Photo By Stacey Newman / Shutterstock [Photo By Stacey Newman / Shutterstock]“States and local … districts are better able to recognize and analyze … transportation risks particular to their areas and identify approaches to best manage and reduce those safety risks,” the group said in response to the NHTSA’s announcement. “Local officials are in the best position to decide whether to purchase seat belts, since these officials must weigh a multitude of unique considerations bearing on purchasing decisions, especially when faced with budgetary constraints.”

It may be hard to wrap one’s head around the use of expense as an argument against keeping children safe — which is the very point of the NHTSA’s recommendation, Administrator Mark Rosekind said.

“The position of the NHTSA is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”

And the risk isn’t imaginary, as father Brad Brown knows all too well. His 16-year-old daughter, Ashley, was killed when her bus flipped over in the Virginia last month, injuring 28 others. It didn’t have seat belts, which Brown believes one could’ve saved his daughter’s life, CBS News reported.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t think of her. Wounds are refreshed every time we see an accident happen that takes the life of another school child that could’ve been prevented with lap or shoulder belts on school buses and every motor coach.”

But there are some points to consider. And yes, money is an issue, as the NHTSA acknowledged in its recommendation.

According to a Today report in 2010, the large, standard yellow school buses that comprise 80 percent of the country’s fleet are heavy, and the passengers sit high enough to make them quite safe in crashes. In fact, many studies have found that bus travel is 40 times safer than the family car. And buses are designed with children’s safety in mind: seats are packed closely together and cushioned with four inches of foam to ensure that should school buses crash, kids will hit the cushy seat ahead of them.

Lap and shoulder belts come with their own risk of injury, and then there’s the matter of the driver actually being able to force the kids to put them on.

Photo By Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock [Photo By Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock]On Sunday, the NHSTA also recognized the cost of outfitting the school buses — and it’s astronomical. They’d cost up to $10,000 each, and when you consider that the country has half a million buses, the cost skyrockets to billions of dollars. The retrofitting could take a decade to complete.

For now, the NHTSA has just made the recommendation, which is the first step in a rule-making process — Rosekind expects opposition. It’s not clear what has changed the agency’s mind, but the administrator acknowledged the change in position, calling the issue a “big void in our safety system.”

“Seat belts save lives, and it should be on every school bus for every kid. Let’s start figuring out how to make that happen, not what the barriers are.”

[Photo By rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock]