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May 9th, 2011

Seat belts on buses (or the lack thereof)

Today I rode a school bus for the first time in many, many years. It was odd to actually feel tall for the first time in my life.

I was surprised at how they are exactly the same as when I was five years old, especially in that they didn’t have seat belts. The bus driver told all the to-be kindergartners on the bus that “these seats are designed to protect you as long as you’re sitting them properly.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but in a crash, those seats aren’t going to do a darn thing to keep those kids from flying around the bus like little out-of-control astronauts.

In an age where, as a society, we’re very, very careful about everything, especially with regards to childrens’ safety, it’s pretty baffling to me that it’s not required (or at least common) to have seat belts on school buses. Surely, there must be a reason, right?

One article suggests 1. the seats actually are there to protect, as our driver had indicated, 2. financial hardship of school systems, and 3. the seat belts might be used as weapons (OK, the author has officially lost me). This piece (which the first seems to have cribbed from) adds the possibility of bus drivers being hit with sexual misconduct charges after helping children buckle themselves in.

I don’t buy the idea of “compartmentalization” – in the ThinkGeek article, they mention that planes are designed with the same idea, that softer seats in front and behind each person help reduce injuries in front/rear collisions and that added seatbelts would require making the seats firmer. But… don’t planes have seatbelts? Plus, it’s not clear whether or not most bus crashes really are front/rear (some studies say otherwise). All of the arguments for keeping seat belts off of buses seem to be the exact same ones people made about seat belts in cars (the belts getting stuck, causing more injuries, etc.).

I wonder how long it’ll be before seat belts will be the rule rather than the exception. Ten years from now, maybe?

Posted in Uncategorized

COD May 9, 2011, 2:21 pm

It’s simple cost – benefit analysis. When you look at the small number of kids seriously injured or killed in a school bus accident each year, and compare it to the cost of outfitting every school bus in America with seat belts, cost wins out. When you factor in the kids hurt exiting or getting on the bus, or other accidents where seat belts wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, it’s very hard for any school system that is already short of funds to ante up $3500 to retrofit a bus with seat belts, or an extra $2000 to add them to new buses, when there isn’t much evidence to suggest that it will make much of a difference.

Paul May 9, 2011, 4:54 pm

Oh, can I throw in another possible reason belts aren’t there? They don’t fit all kids of various sizes. For instance, do you assume 2 kids per bench or 3? Without belts kids are able to take up whatever space they need – which is actually a really good thing.

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