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NTSB Launches Debate About Seat Belts in School Buses

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email

July 23, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board is considering requiring seat belts on school buses, following two fatal bus crashes in New Jersey and Florida.

But the transportation leaders of Charlottesville and Albemarle County school districts say buses are statistically the safest type of transportation, and they are not sure they need seat belts.

"If you're just talking about riding with Mom and Dad, school buses tend to be, statistically, eight times safer than that," said William Deane, the Assistant Director of Transportation for Albemarle Schools.

Records from Virginia State Police support him in that claim. In the past seven years, no Virginia children have been killed on a school bus. That compares to 208 school-age children who have died in cars during that same time span.

But children do occasionally get hurt on buses. Last year in Virginia, there were 227 injuries to children. That compares to 3,873 school-age children who were injured in cars.

Deane says, the buses are designed to protect children without belts.

"There's a seat back in front of me that would keep me in place, and keep me less prone to injury," Deane said.

The smaller buses are required by federal law to have seat belts, because they are similar in size to a large van. Also, many of the large buses in Albemarle County and Charlottesville are equipped with a couple seats that have harnesses for pre-school age children, or students with special needs.

To add shoulder harness seat belts to all of its buses, Deane estimates it would cost more than $3 million. Charlottesville leaders say it would cost them even more.

A cheaper option would be to just put in lap belts. The bus seats are already equipped to have lap belts installed, for about $15 to $35 each. Deane estimates it would cost about half a million dollars to put lap belts on all the seats. But he says, that may not make the kids any safer.

"If you're just wearing a lap belt and you are thrown forward, that it could cause injury," Deane said.

The NTSB was discussing the issue on Tuesday. They have not yet made a recommendation about school bus seat belts.

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