Every day, millions of American children ride a bus to and from school. Unfortunately, school bus accidents result in numerous injuries reported each year. Typically, the standards for school bus safety are only questioned following a tragic event. Some organizations stand by the belief that a school bus is one of the safest forms of transportation. While some opposing lawmakers and parents call for new improvements to be implemented for children’s safety on these vehicles.
In general, the overwhelming majority of children remain safe throughout their school bus commute when you consider there are billions of these trips made every year. However, when discussing children’s safety, there is always room for improvement.
As a personal injury lawyer who focuses on helping those who have been injured in car accidents, truck accidents, bus accidents, and any other type of injury that is caused by another negligent party, I think it’s essential to periodically re-evaluate safety standards and make sure that every child is traveling with the most secure forms of accident protection on the bus.
Common Issues with School Bus Safety
There is plenty of potential for injury inside a school bus. Students are expected to stay in their seats and face the front during a bus ride. But they are certainly capable of getting themselves into unsafe situations. Children who hang their bodies out into the aisle, sit with too many people per seat, or move about while the bus is in motion are obviously at greater risk of getting injured. Something as simple as the driver slamming on the brakes unexpectedly is enough to injure an unrestrained child.
Researchers and engineers designed school buses to protect riders in the event of a front-end collision. Little is done to ensure rider’s safety if a more severe accident were to occur. High-rising padded seats have long been the alternative to needing seat belts on a bus. Engineers first implemented this design, called compartmentalization, in the late 1970s. The idea is that in the event of a front-end collision, passengers will hit the seat in front of them. The padding will bear the brunt of the impact with as little trauma as possible. While this plan has proven to be adequate in most circumstances, there is always the possibility for far more serious accidents when compartmentalization will fail.
A rollover bus accident is one of the worst-case scenarios imaginable for a child to be involved in while riding a school bus. Without proper restraint, children can be tossed around the bus with zero control of their bodies, leading to serious injury. Unrestrained school bus passengers also are vulnerable to injury from collisions that occur from the side of the bus.
While these accidents do happen, it is statistically rare for a school bus to be involved in a fatal crash. From 1998 to 2008, there were nearly 415,00 fatal motor vehicle accidents according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Of those, only about 1,500 involved a school bus, that’s less than one percent.
Should School Buses Have Seat Belts?
With nearly 20 years experience of handling car accident cases, I can say with total certainty seat belts save lives in the event of a car crash. We undoubtedly teach our kids to buckle up when they get in a car. Why not keep the massage consistent across all modes of motor transportation?
According to NHTSA, seat belts on school buses would provide little value and not be worth the trouble of switching the standard. The administration argues school buses are already designed with safety in mind. There was little data to show adding seat belts would reduce injuries. On top of that, NHTSA believes that once installed, there is no guarantee children would use the seat belts appropriately. They believe the money that would be dedicated to this safety upgrade could be spent far more effectively on an alternative safety measure.
Some politicians argue seat belts could be a safety hazard if children are unable to buckle and unbuckle themselves. Then the bus driver would need to stop to buckle the children. Or an aide would need to be hired to do the buckling and unbuckling.
On the other side of the debate, some politicians and safety organizations have taken a strong stance that implementing new seat belt laws would save lives. They argue that seat belts would reduce the probability of injury, if a serious crash were to occur, especially in rollover and side impact accidents. National Safety Council data predicts seat belts on school buses would reduce severe injury in bus crashes by 50 percent.
These officials also cite that requiring seat belts would reinforce good safety habits and improve the behavior of bus riders.
States are able to pass their own additional regulations for school bus standards. However, most school bus safety bills fail to pass. Only Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Texas have additional laws on the books to require advanced safety measures. Though the law in Louisiana never had the funding to implement it. In 2021, Louisiana legislature killed a new bill asking school districts to phase in school buses with seat belts.
The true cost for requiring seat belts on school buses is a legitimate argument. Most school districts simply can’t afford new buses, let alone an entire fleet of buses equipped with seat belts or going back and retrofitting old ones. Some argue requiring seat belts would in turn force more students to find their own mode of transportation since the school district would not be able to provide as many buses.
The Current State of School Bus Safety
Riding on a school bus is safe. Road accidents happen, but some form of driver negligence is typically to blame. New regulations and laws aim to enhance children’s safety on the bus, but these regulations can’t prevent an accident. Adding seat belts to a school bus might end up saving lives. It also would prove to be a massive endeavor to establish seat belts in school buses as the standard law.
On average, there are about 2,000 child deaths from motor vehicle accidents every year. (NHTSA) Comparably, school-transportation-related crashes account for an average of 134 fatalities per year.
Motor transportation has continued to grow safer over time, and school buses are no exception. I think the current state of safety for school bus transportation is more than adequate. And I support any motion that enhances road safety. I think we will start to see seat belts becoming a more accessible option for bus riders. I don’t think we need to make any drastic changes to our laws.
Guest post: Jared Staver is a personal injury lawyer based out of Chicago, Illinois, and is the managing partner of Staver Law Group. Jared focuses primarily on auto-related accidents and has nearly twenty years of experience within the Illinois legal industry.
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