New frightening video renews debate on seat belts for school buses

Published: Feb. 12, 2020 at 5:24 PM CST
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The startling video made available this week by the Ohio State Highway Patrol shows the inside of a school bus when it was hit at an intersection by a car running a red light.

The bus went off the road into a guardrail and then flipped onto its side. The video shows passengers jolted, then sent flying through the air like they were in a weightless environment. Eight students were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, but it does once again bring up a long-running debate on whether or not buses should be equipped with seat belts.

There is no federal law requiring them but the National Transportation Safety Board wants them.

"The NTSB feels strongly that every school bus needs lap shoulder belts," said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. "It's a proven technology that will save lives and we've called on states to require these important safety enhancement devices."

Yet most states don't require them. Arkansas is one of eight states that do, but it only pertains to all newly-purchased or leased buses if the district votes to approve funding.

Paying for the changes is definitely a road block for any school system.

Springfield, the state's largest public school system, has 132 buses that travel 10,000 miles a day. With costs estimated up to $10,000 per bus to add seat belts the prize tag would be over a million dollars.

There are many pros and cons to the debate. Those against seat belts argue that the large, heavy buses where passengers sit up high is already safe for front-and-rear collisions where most accidents occur.

They also point out that students who ride in passenger cars are 20 times more likely to die in an accident than those who ride buses.

There's also concerns over the difficulty in getting large numbers of belted-students extracted from a bus after a wreck and getting belts that fit correctly on so many different-sized students.

"What we know that's not necessarily safer is putting a child in a restraint that does not fit them," pointed out Jon Nelson, MoDOT's Assistant to the State Highway Safety and Traffic Engineer. "So a lot of the elementary school kids still need to be in a booster seat which most school buses are not going to have."

Nelson said providing someone to supervise students as they put on their belt would also be critical as part of a myriad of things to consider in this complicated issue.

"There's a lot of challenges when it comes to that," he said. " I think seat belts would be great if there was a way to insure the people are using them properly. The big picture in general is that anytime someone's riding in a vehicle that has restraints that are suitable for their age and body types, it's always going to be best to be restrained if possible."

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