NHTSA Makes U-Turn – No Longer Opposes Seat Belts on School Buses
It may have taken years, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made a U-turn with regards to seatbelts in school buses. Following years of opposition to efforts that would have required seatbelts for all children riding the big yellow buses, the NHTSA has literally made an about face.
Ironically, the government agency’s viewpoint on seatbelts for occupants of other motor vehicles was that buckling up was”the single most effective way” to reduce serious injury or death. But, that didn’t include school buses – until now.
While school bus travel is considered to be the safest form of ground transportation for children, according to the NHTSA’s own statistics, Mark Rosekind, administrator of the agency, admitted in November that something would be done to change the old policy and that he has plans to start a nationwide effort to assure that every school bus has a three-point seat belt for each child to wear.
Studies have shown that each year an average of six children are killed riding in school buses, accounting for 0.2 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. NHTSA statistics indicate that a child’s risk of injury or death is higher in a parent’s vehicle on their way to school than on a school bus.
Art Yeager, past president of the National Coalition For School Bus Safety, believes there is still room for improvement. After all, Yeager should know, considering he’s been tracking the issue of seatbelts in school buses for more than four decades. But, he likes what he hears.
Unfortunately, although the issue has been a no-brainer for safety advocates, it hasn’t been for the NHTSA. In fact, Rosekind stepped back slightly from his earlier comments, stopping short of mandating immediate seatbelt installation in the six states that require some form of school-bus restraints.
Instead, the NHTSA will first initiate a search for new ways to gather school bus safety data and confer with the governors of the six states that would be affected by the new seatbelt rule, which could take years, delaying any implementation of a restraint law in the near future.
As is often the case, money appears to be the stumbling block, not an opposition to safety, according to Rosekind. The NHTSA’s numbers show that a typical new school bus has a price tag of $75,000 to $85,000, depending on its size. For a single bus to be fully equipped with a lap belt or a shoulder-and-lap belt, depending on the amount of seats to be fitted, the cost would run between $5,485 and $7,346.
School bus manufacturers as well as the NHTSA have long claimed that the advanced concept of “compartmentalization” has kept children safe and prevented many injuries over the years. The concept involves building each bus with precise spacing between seats and the height of seat backs. Regardless of the design’s true effectiveness in saving lives in school bus crashes, the NHTSA has stood with bus manufacturers in the past to reject the need for seatbelts as an unnecessary expense.
If the NHTSA is serious about reducing injuries in school bus crashes, it would be better for the agency to act much sooner than later.
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Do you think seatbelts on school buses is worth the added expense to keep children safer? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.