Call for mandatory seat belt use in school buses

AAA is leading the charge to require seat belts be installed and used on all school buses in Maryland and the rest of the country.

Since the late 1960s, passenger vehicles have been required by law to be equipped with seat belts. Over the years, Maryland and other states have passed their own laws governing the use of those safety belts. At the same time, the use of child safety seats has evolved and today commonly includes different seats for different ages and sizes of children.

While all of this has been taking place, there remains one glaring hole in the effort to protect children riding in motor vehicle. That hole is the lack of seat belts in school buses. According to the Fauquier Times, only six states in the country require that seat belts be installed in school buses. Maryland is not one of those states.

Recent crash reignites the conversation

Attempts to require the use of seat belts in school buses have been made but have not succeeded. However, several recent accidents in the region have brought the issue to the forefront. In one crash in Baltimore County, nine students out of 41 riding on a school bus suffered injuries after the bus rolled over.

The Hill reports that AAA is spearheading an effort now to make school bus seat belt installation and use mandatory in all 50 states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may support AAA in seeking this change.

Maryland's current child safety seat laws

The Maryland Department of Motor Vehicle Administration stipulates that children riding in passenger vehicles must be appropriately secured. For kids seven years old or younger or who are less than four feet eight inches tall, that means riding in a booster seat, five-point harness car seat or a rear-facing infant seat.

Once kids have grown over four feet eight inches tall or are older than seven, booster seats are not required but the use of seat belts is. Drivers are responsible for making sure these laws are followed.

Recommendations from pediatricians

While the opinion of the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding school bus seat belts is not known, the AAP's opinion on child safety seats is. The organization generally recommends standards beyond most laws. For example, the AAP encourages parents to keep babies in rear-facing seats until they are two years old or until they surpass the height and weight limits of such seats. The same is true for forward-facing car seats and booster seats. The AAP indicates that keeping children in these restraints as long as possible is the best way to protect them in the event of an accident.

What parents should do

While parents cannot control whether or not seat belts are used in school buses, they can support the effort to require such use. They can also take action if their children are ever involved in a school bus accident. Contacting an attorney in these situations is an important way of ensuring their child's rights and safety are properly protected.