Because schools are still on summer break, school bus safety is probably not on the minds of many California parents right now. But it remains a topic of concern and discussion among traffic safety regulators and groups focusing on student safety. Indeed, bus safety – and seat belt requirements in particular – were topics of conversation last month between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and groups like the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS).
Seat belts have long been a mandatory feature on newly manufactured automobiles for average consumers. But for a variety of reasons, buses of nearly all types have managed to continue operating with no requirement that seat belts be installed, much less worn by passengers. The NHTSA wants to change that.
In one sense, the argument for seat belt requirements is a no-brainer. In smaller vehicles, these simple devices have saved countless lives and made car accidents far less injurious and fatal.
Critics point out, however, that school buses already tend to be safer than cars because they are much larger and passengers are seated higher off the road. Seat belts, they argue, would add extra costs without adding a substantial safety benefit.
These arguments, while common, are not supported by facts and research. Indeed, seat belts on buses seem to have safety benefits beyond just the restraint they provide during a crash. Some school districts have already switched to buses with seat belts, and these districts have seen dramatic improvements in student behavior on buses. This allows the bus driver to pay more attention to the road. It also reduces the likelihood that students will be in the aisles or turned around and out of their seats during a crash.
Admittedly, traffic safety regulation is a topic that few people care about. That is, of course, until a preventable disaster strikes. Instead of waiting for yet more preventable bus accidents, we must hope that the NHTSA and school transportation groups can reach a consensus on common-sense safety reforms.