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Do Our School Buses Need Seat Belts?

This is the time of year when parents prepare to send their children to school. If you are preparing to send your child to school on a school bus, however, that bus may be lacking one important thing — a seat belt.

There are approximately 400,000 school buses used to transport our nation’s children to and from school, and from school to school activities. Approximately 85% of these buses are large buses which carry more than 16 passengers. These buses rarely have seat belts.

Many school administrators argue that seat belts are costly and that the design of these big buses makes seat belts unnecessary. They argue that “compartmentalization” gives students adequate protection. Compartmentalization refers to the fact that the distance between the front of one seat and the back of the next seat is relatively small. Because of compartmentalization and because of the height of the seats, many school administrators suggest that the children are well protected. Critics complain that compartmentalization only protects children in front-end collisions, and ignores the risk of rear-end and side collisions as well as bus rollovers. During a crash unseatbelted children become human missiles as they are thrown from their seats into one another or into the aisle.

In more recent years, several health and safety related organizations have endorsed the use of seat belts in school buses. These organizations include the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the Physicians for Auto Safety, and the Center for Auto Safety.

To date most school districts have been reluctant to spend money on installing seat belts. Many safety experts fear that nothing will be done until an unnecessary tragedy occurs and school children are hurt because they did not have seat belts to use on their school bus.

Safety experts recommend, in addition to seat belts, that all buses be equipped with brake retarder systems. These systems may be effective in reducing serious injuries caused by sudden stops. They also recommend mandatory state school bus inspections.

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