The in basket: Fred Oliver of Seabeck and Dave Spoelstra of
Kingston are curious as to why school buses are exempt from the
seat belt law.
Fred put it this way: “Why is that special car seats are
required for little kiddies and when they arrive at school age,
there are no seat belts in school buses.”
The out basket: I went to Glen Tyrrell, the retired state
trooper who is director of transportation in Bainbridge Island
schools. He gave me some answers and referred me to Allan Jones,
director of pupil transportation in the state school
I expected to be told that the difficulty of unbuckling dozens
of children in an emergency that requires haste, and the possible
use of the belt as a weapon by bullies played a role, but Glen says
that’s old thinking. The prospects that the driver would have to
take the time to buckle the students IN was a more persuasive
concern, he said.
He said people his age and mine who haven’t been on a school bus
for a while probably think those tubular steel seat backs that were
excellent in chipping teeth still exist. They don’t, he said. In
the 1970s, regulations passed to require higher, padded seat
“If there is a crash, the dynamics cause the student to go
forward to the seat ahead of them, and the seats offer adequate
protection,” he said.
Allan told me their is growing support for seat belts in school
buses, and some states – New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and
California – require them.
But underlying all the logistical concerns, he said, is a
It’s generally accepted that a child riding to school belted
into a car is at a greater risky of being hurt in an accident than
one riding in a school bus without belts, he said.
Until recently, shoulder/lap belt designs have cut the capacity
of a school bus by a third. There is progress in producing seat
belts that can allow students to sit three across, rather than just
But then, cost enters in, he said. Adding belts to a
72-passenger bus can add more than $25,000 to its price. Reduced
capacity and higher costs can mean fewer students on buses, for an
overall drop in student safety.
Belts are required on smaller buses, those that carry 10 or
fewer students, he said. He knows of no public school district in
the state that has taken it upon itself to add belts.
State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe of King County has introduced
bills to put seat belts on school buses for several years running,
but they haven’t passed. This year, she told me, she doesn’t see
the kind of momentum nationally that might bode success, so she
won’t submit the bill in 2009.