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Why are There No Seatbelts on School Buses?

There are multiple reason seat belts are not used on a school bus, including the possibility of the devices hampering a rescue effort.
Retrofitting school buses with seat belt could prove expensive.
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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In 2007, a school bus transporting students to a technical school in Huntsville, Alabama, skidded off an interstate highway on-ramp and plunged 20 feet (6 m) to the pavement below. Four students were killed, and dozens more were injured. This tragic accident rekindled a national debate on whether or not seatbelts should be mandatory on school buses. The families of the deceased students have pursued legal action against the school system, the bus driver and one of the major manufacturers of buses worldwide. The short answers to why they are not mandated on school buses are safety issues, economics, and liability.

The US National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA), one of the most influential government agencies when it comes to public safety on roadways, has stated that current school buses are among the safest forms of transportation available. After studying the results of crashes involving these buses, the NHTSA stated that there was no compelling reason to believe the use of seatbelts should be federally mandated. Most accidents were either frontal or rear collisions, which means that passengers were protected by a safety feature called compartmentalization.

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Compartmentalization, a concept seen frequently on commercial airplanes, involves seating passengers in rows of padded seats with cushioned backs. The belief is that during frontal or rear impact, the most common types of wrecks involving school buses, passengers would either be pushed back into their seats or thrown forward into the padded backs of the row ahead. The use of seatbelts might require stiffer seats, which would negate the theory of compartmentalization. It is also feared that some students would receive internal injuries from the belts through a process called submarining, the tendency for a body to slide downwards during impact.

Seatbelts could also hamper rescue or evacuation efforts, as adults or older students may have to spend precious minutes unbuckling young or disoriented passengers. Unruly students could also use the heavy buckles as makeshift weapons, creating even more of a safety hazard. There is also the argument that seatbelts would only protect passengers during unusual events, such as roll-overs or flips, not other possible accidents such as fires or submersion. Considering the expense of retrofitting current school buses or replacing entire fleets with approved seat belt systems, the benefits do not currently outweigh the liabilities.

One problem many school systems face with the prospect of mandatory seat belt use on school buses is compliance. The bus driver already has a significant amount of responsibility, so schools would have to hire additional monitors to ride on all the buses. In light of sexual misconduct concerns, both male and female monitors would have to be hired in order to avoid any allegations of impropriety. Besides the added expense of hiring qualified monitors, there would also be a question of liability if even one student removed his or her belt and became injured as a result.

Retrofitting current school buses can also be an expensive and controversial process for school systems. There are few guarantees that retrofitted belt systems would not fail under certain circumstances. There are also very few standards in place for seat belt systems installed by manufacturers of school buses. The handful of states which have instituted seat belt mandates for school buses have not reported many incidents in which their use was clearly an advantage over compartmentalization. While it may seem counter-intuitive to mandate seat belt use for automobiles but not for buses, there are some differences between the two modes of transportation that require different approaches to passenger safety.

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anon945378
Post 27

I practice as a physician in a rural ER. I do not profess to be an expert in mass trauma, because this fortunately is not a common scenario in the area in which I practice. I do, however, after 14 years in practice, have considerable experience in motor vehicle trauma involving typical passenger vehicles.

When notified via ambulance radio of pending casualties, one of the most important parts of this report is whether the occupants were wearing seatbelts. It is well known that proper restraints serve not only to protect the occupant, but also prevent others from the injuries associated with bodies flying around like missiles in the vehicle. I can safely say that those accidents without all passengers properly restrained suffer a dramatically higher risk of serious injuries than those who are.

I too have no sound reference as a source for the theory that seatbelts possibly pose a risk for our children on school buses, but it seems that most all of this is speculation. Are we placing our children in harm's way by this thinking? Perhaps more time and money should be spent on careful evaluation through scientific research to determine whether the hassles for the bus driver, the cost, and "possible" safety issues really outweigh the benefits of mandatory seatbelt use on school buses.

anon941174
Post 25

I think school buses should have seat belts for safety reasons.

anon345632
Post 23

When you all have to be the car sitting in front or behind the bus as it picks up and drops off children and you have to wait for the driver to help buckle or unbuckle the kids while you are needing to get to work, will you still be so sure you want seat belts?

Or when the route time increases significantly because of all the time it takes to buckle and unbuckle at every stop, so your kids have to catch the bus an hour or more before school? Yeah, that's what I thought -- and what if or when there is a fire, and the driver cannot cut 84 seat belts that have melted into your child's skin while toxic smoke fills their lungs and he or she is forced to choose which kids they can save?

anon328573
Post 22

I am assuming that everyone who has made a post on here is a parent. I was just wondering have any of you parents taken time out out of your busy day to talk to your school bus driver?

I have driven a school bus for 18 years and I am currently driving. But, there comes a time when we have to put seat belts on every bus in our country, I will not drive. It is not that drivers don't care about the safety of your kids. The reason that some drivers don't want seat belts on buses is for the safety of your kids. Administrators and parents don't tell your kids' teachers to turn their backs on 65 to 71 kids and say teach them something. But every day, parents put their children on a school bus and expect the one and only adult on the bus to control the kids' every move.

I can tell every last one of you that I do have control of my students on my bus and expect them to do everything I ask them to do. Not every driver has that much control over their students. As a driver, I do not want seat belts put on my bus. I already have enough responsibility getting my kids to school and home safely. I do not want to have to worry about getting small children out of seat belts if we are in a severe accident.

Just remember parents: school bus drivers think of your children as their very own children and do not want to see them hurt in any way, shape or form. So parents might just take a minute and explain to their kids about bus safety and thank your school bus drivers.

anon322012
Post 21

Re: anon305792 (Post 19): The reason school bus drivers have seatbelts and the riders do not is because the drivers are behind the windshield. Thus if they are dislodged, they will be flying through glass. Therefore, they must be restrained with a seatbelt.

With compartmentalization, the idea is to contain the movement of the occupants. The farthest that a person in a school bus seat will go is against the seat in front of them, i.e., maybe a foot or so. That's why those seats are padded on all sides: because they are designed to absorb an impact in a collision.

That's why the driver has a seatbelt; there's no seat in front to catch him or her.

anon305792
Post 19

School buses should have seat belts because if the bus gets in a mishap, kids can go flying through a window and that would be sad if a little girl or boy could go through the window and it is not fair that the bus drivers have seatbelts, but not the children. That is just not fair. Would you rather have your child alive?

anon275102
Post 18

What if the school bus turned upside down? Don't you think the children would be hung by the belts and choked to death? In England they had this happen.

Also, if the bus has more than 66 passengers -- which most school buses do -- if that bus catches on fire, how would you, if you were the driver, choose which kid you get off the bus first and getting them off fast. A school bus is very safe. If the kid gets hurt, it is because the child is not sitting properly in the seat.

anon272145
Post 17

Just yesterday, my kids were hurt on the bus. The bus driver went to pull out of a junction, and then at the last second, saw someone coming and slammed on the breaks. The bus was hardly moving. She said the speedometer didn't even hit 10km, yet most, if not all, the kids were thrown into the "compartments" that people say are safe. The "super safe compartments" hurt the kids.

Now if you did that in the car, no one would be hurt, none of us would hit the windscreen, nor would our seatbelted kids hit the seat in front either! Why do we need kids to die before action is taken?

If I ever had the opportunity, I would like to put all the people in power who think that "compartments" are safe, and stick them on a bus going 100km and suddenly hit the brakes and see what they thought of that.

My kids got hurt from going at virtually no speed at all. And the bus driver also stated that they were seated properly in their seats and still got hurt.

anon270794
Post 16

Another point, and one that should be made, is that seat belts are actually potential weapons that some students would, could, and in fact *have* used on each other on those buses that do have them installed.

The bus driver and monitor can do their very best, but when you have a seating capacity of seventy or seventy one, someone is going to be up to some shenanigans you can't see. And students do hurt each other, and yes, have even used seat belts to do so. (Some school buses do have seat belts. Not all, but enough that we have seen what happens.) And most buses might have one or two seat belt cutters, but they go dull quickly after maybe one or two seats. Imagine having to cut out a dozen kids in a hurry when you might have to evacuate in less than five minutes? I've seen buses go up quickly, and toxic smoke is a hazard within those five minutes.

anon160197
Post 14

I'm wondering why are there no seatbelts on commercial buses? I understand the arguments against seatbelts on school buses, but have there been any actual case studies?

anon152053
Post 13

@11 Your statistics and math skills are weak. A quarter of a million is not 25,000.. it's 250,000.

anon143833
Post 12

If you put seat belts in a bus, it would most likely cause more injury than prevent. The only thing it would help in is if the bus rolls over. If it catches fire, they're trapped, if it ends up in a lake/river, they're trapped, if it gets in a collision it takes longer to vacate in case of a fire.

Also, seat belts have a notorious tendency to jam, and unless you're going to give every kid a knife to cut the belt with, then they are trapped in their seat. The list of liabilities is massive, and the list of benefits is almost non-existent.

In all, adding seat belts is a terrible idea.

anon136644
Post 11

@1 You're basically saying that in 50 years well under a quarter million (25,000) people have been saved by seatbelts. That's a lot more than nothing but those numbers are very discouraging. Especially seeing as around 40,000 people die every year in car crashes in the U.S. Your statistics are weak and mean nothing.

anon134268
Post 10

Interestingly enough, this article conflicts with another one I read about seatbelts: this article said most bus crashes involve rear-end or front-end collisions, yet the other article said most buses are hit from an angle or the side. So, which is it?

I also disagree with the compartmentalization argument - I can remember having a particularly aggressive bus driver as a kid (who was eventually fired) and he would routinely slam on the brakes to get kids to sit down and shut up. I remember several times my body hitting the seat in front of me, and believe me - it did NOT feel padded. Not like you'd find in an automobile, which is much softer and would probably absorb much more impact. Our bodies sort of bounced off the seat, rather than absorb the blow.

I also disagree that school buses go at or below the speed limit. Most do, undoubtedly, but I live in a (private) school zone and see many buses from the same fleet buzzing past my house at speeds greater than they're supposed to.

I find the statement about the rarity of rollovers and flips to be absurd, yet they mention fire and submersion like they are things that happen every day and are therefore to be considered more. I'm sorry, but every accident I've heard of with buses has probably involved a rollover or a flip.

To think - the 'economics' of the issue is more important than saving kids' lives. My son's school bus does have seat belts and they're still not being used.

anon132115
Post 9

I grew up in an area which experienced an extraordinary event regarding school bus seat belts.

During the 90s when I rode school buses, they all had seat belts and all children were required to use them. Then, as my district was absorbed into the larger city district beside us, the laws regarding school bus seat belts conflicted - the larger district did not require seat belts, while my smaller one did. The result was that my smaller district was made to conform to the larger one, and seat belts were no longer required.

However, the city went one step further: they removed all seat belts from all school buses in use.

Having read this and other articles on the safety of compartmentalization, I can say from my experience on modern buses that it is completely ineffective. It is made on the assumption that the child is sitting down properly in their seat. The seat belts were the only measure that kept the children in their seats and not standing up. If a child unbuckled their seat belt and stood up, the driver would stop the bus and ensure the child was buckled up again, and this worked very effectively.

Without seat belts children were standing up, leaning over, spilling into the aisle, and the bus driver had no way of stopping it.

As to the seat belt buckles being used as weapons, this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard - how can the child use them as weapons if they're wearing the seat belt?

Finally, the thought that seat belts can hinder in rescue operations can also be applied to cars - if a car plunges into a river, the driver and passengers must also spend their time unbuckling their seat belts before trying to escape. The difference is that those who are buckled up are more likely to be conscious than those who have been thrown around, either in a car or bus, so the extra few seconds spent pushing a buckle release button are trivial compared to not being able to escape due to a concussion.

anon131800
Post 8

I've seen footage of a video taken during a school bus crash and the children were projectiles flying through the air. Many children were badly hurt and a few died.

This video proved to me that the reason they don't require seat belts isn't about safety; it's because not enough children are killed to be cost effective. They won't change until a lot of people speak up.

Other countries have required seat belts on buses for decades, and they should be harness seat belts. The authorities are comparing lap belts to their supposed safer alternative, which is very misleading.

anon119642
Post 7

I'm not sure if anyone actually read the article, but the author points to several pressing issues may lead to seat belts harming children. I'm not on either side, but rushing to the conclusion that we must mandate something is also a bit foolish.

anon107448
Post 5

If you think about the logic of seatbelts, they say they save lives, well then they should be installed in every vehicle! Yet some stranger taking my children to school does not have the same responsibility. Where is the logic in that? I say we should start a massive argument regarding seatbelts on buses. Aren't our children worth it?

anon102456
Post 4

the lack of seatbelts in a school bus due to lack of funding, and enforcing it, etc, is a huge load of crap. Take an extra 10 minutes and make sure the kids are buckled up.

Let's face it: we get ticketed in our vehicles for the sake of a money making revenue, not for safety, or they would enforce the same on buses, but they can't ticket what they can't see. Besides, why can you ride a motorcycle on the road which has no safety features and will go like 280 kph, but as soon as you drive a car you are ticketed for not having a seatbelt on. It makes no sense.

It's the same debate as why do they make cars that can exceed the speed limit? Most people replied they make cars go that fast to pass traffic in a safe way. But do we need cars that can exceed the speed limit by triple? Think about it.

I'm sorry but it's all about money and greed to ticket people. It's revenue. Why do you think they have governed transport trucks to 110 kph? They can do it if they want to. I asked a friend of mine who is a cop the other day about this and he did not have an answer. I asked him if we can legally only go 110-115 kph without a ticket, why do they make cars to go at least double that? He did not have an answer other than "you have a weird way of looking at things" and I said " do I really?" Think about it.

Last beef: emission control on our cars here in Canada. I was sitting on the back porch at my father-in law's in Michigan watching a large ship go by on the St. Clair river, just dumping huge amounts of diesel fuel into the air. And I thought to myself: why are all us small guys getting it having to have our vehicles tested for emissions every two years when the freakin ships and all the jet planes in the air are burning hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel each day and I don't see them becoming hybrid or eco friendly? Why not hit them too, if we are going to do it properly jeff --

Ontario, Canada

anon86657
Post 3

since most school buses have cameras on them, any student who does not buckle up would be suspended from riding the bus and his parents fined. After the parents have to take the kid to school, they would make sure he buckles up after his suspension. the only reason the law is enforced in automobiles is to collect fines.

anon63495
Post 2

And if and when a school bus comes to a crashing halt? What, the kids stay in their seats?

mendocino
Post 1

Seat belts might not be as effective on school buses when everything is taken into consideration, but seat belts on passenger cars have saved many lives. A statistic I have read is that various car safety features have saved over 300,000 lives since 1960. More then half of those lives were saved because of seat belts.

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