Why no seat belts on school buses?


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 superintendent’s office. 

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 backs. 

“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 philosophical one. 

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 two. 

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.

One thought on “Why no seat belts on school buses?

  1. There is a reason why there are no seat belts on a bus. If anything, the seat belts put the passenger in more danger to themselves. Read about it here

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