The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending seat belts on school buses. This may be the push needed for Maryland and other states to protect students who take the bus.
Seat belts on buses do save lives and limit injuries. However, the debate always comes down to the substantial cost of adding safety belts and who will pay for it. School districts look to state legislatures. States look to the federal government.
Another deadly school bus crash
The NTSB announced its recommendations just days after a school bus collided with a dump truck in New Jersey, killing one child and one adult aboard the bus and injuring 40 others. That bus was equipped with seatbelts, which probably further deaths or worse injuries.
The board is calling for lap belts and shoulder harnesses on all new school buses. A few states already require seat belts or lap and shoulder restraints. Unless older buses are retrofitted (at a cost of millions) it would take several years before all of Maryland’s schoolchildren are protected by a 3-point system. Better late than never.
Will Maryland follow suit?
Following the deadly school bus crash in Baltimore in 2016, the Maryland Legislature considered – but did not pass – a bill to add seat belts to buses. The Baltimore crash, which killed four people and injured 11, was one of the accidents on which the NTSB based its recommendations. Now that the NTSB has weighed in to advocate for seat belts, Maryland legislators are once again taking up school bus safety. We shall see.
Are seat belts on buses worth the cost?
In 1989, the National Research Council recommended against requiring seat belts — the benefits did not justify the exorbitant cost. Since 1989, more than 150 students and school bus drivers have died in crashes and thousands more have been injured.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that on average 134 people die each year in crashes involving school vehicles. However, the vast majority of those victims are not schoolchildren. More than 90 percent of the fatalities are people struck by buses – pedestrians, bicyclists, or occupants in the other vehicle.
School bus crashes are fairly rare. Statistically, driving your child to school is far more dangerous. Nonetheless, research suggests that seatbelts on buses would reduce injuries and deaths by at least 20 percent — and that assumes only 50 percent of students wearing the belt. If safety belts were universal and mandatory, many more students would be spared injury or death.
Seat belts would also make buses safer simply by keeping kids in their seats. Bus drivers can focus on the road rather than having to monitor students moving around the bus and creating distractions.
What do you think? Is it time for school bus seat belts?