Why Aren’t There Seat Belts on Buses?
Depending on your state and locality, you may not have had seat belts on your school bus. If seat belts are so effective at preventing traffic fatalities and injuries, why aren’t they protecting children on school buses across the U.S.?
First, it’s important to understand that school buses are safer than regular passenger vehicles; in fact, they’re the safest way to get to school in the U.S., according to the NHTSA. While 78 percent of traffic fatalities of school-age children from 2003 to 2014 involved passenger-vehicle occupants, only 1 percent involved children in large school buses — a difference of 99 percent, in other words.
|Mode of transportation
|Number of fatalities
|Percentage of total fatalities of school-age children in the U.S. during school transportation time in 2003-2014 (high to low)
|Occupants of a passenger vehicle
|Occupants of other vehicles
|Pedestrians near/around loading and unloading zone of school bus
|Occupants of a large school bus
School buses are so safe largely because have more federal standards than any other vehicle type, including these criteria:
- Compartmentalization (closely spaced seats with energy-absorbing backs)8
- Elevated passenger deck
- Flashing overhead lights
- Greater weight
- Low speed
- Stop arm
- Well-trained drivers
- Standout color (usually yellow)
That being said, the NHTSA acknowledges that seat belts on school buses would better protect children. In fact, a federal mandate would save two lives a year (given the number of buses didn’t decrease).
However, installing seat belts on all school buses in the U.S. would increase their purchase and operating costs. Consequently, fewer buses would be available, leading students to take other, less safe modes of transportation to school. As a result, 10 to 19 children would die commuting to school, which is at least five times more than the lives seat belts would save. In other words, a federal mandate on seat belts in school buses is a net negative under current school transportation budgets.
That being said, some states already require school buses to have seat belts:
Additionally, local jurisdictions in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas have the power to approve or deny the use of seat belts.9