Numbering in the hundreds of thousands, school buses transport more than 25 million children to and from their respective academic institutions, covering 5.7 billion miles annually. The American School Bus Council reported that that number represents half of the Kindergarten through 12th-grade population.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that school buses are the safest form of transporting children to and from school. The vehicles are constructed to be safer than passenger vehicles, specifically minimizing, if not avoiding crashes and the injuries that ensue. Designed for compartmentalization, seats are closely spaced together and contain higher seat backs that absorb energy.
The NHTSA cites an average of six student passengers dying in crashes annually. Comparatively, 2,000 children lose their lives in motor vehicle crashes every year.
Individual state mandates are rare
To date, most states do not mandate seatbelts. Approximately 32 states and Puerto Rico have attempted legislative measures to require seat belts in buses since 2007. While eight states have required seatbelt installation in school businesses, a handful is subject to appropriations or approval/denial by local jurisdictions.
While designed to absorb front and rear crashes, the possibility of side-impact crashes creates concern as there is little protection for that type of collision. Lateral impacts could lead to serious accidents and the potential for dangerous and deadly rollovers.
Worth the costs?
Pilot programs funded well into the millions have revealed that seatbelts would increase safety in school buses. However, those involved in those studies found that the program costs would be greater than any benefits.
While lap and three-point belts used in other forms of transport have been suggested, most school buses lack the restraints necessary to protect children in the event of a crash. Sadly, only a significant catastrophe may lead to action. However, the move might be too little and too late for parents of seriously injured children.