Parenting: School buses and safety
February 23, 2012 (WPVI) -- Many of you may be curious as to why most school buses are not equipped with seat belts.
New Jersey, as we all found out with the tragedy in Chesterfield Township, is one of only six states that require them. Pennsylvania and Delaware are among the 44 states that do not.
Some of you may remember the podcast I used to record for 6abc.com every week (if you do remember, I thank you for listening!). On November 8, 2005, I explained why school buses typically don't offer seat belts for children.
Read on to see what I discovered:
When it is time to send your children off to school, you load them onto a bus where they plop down on seats with no seat belts, no restraints no booster seats..nothing.
Why is the one vehicle that is most likely to carry children NOT equipped with safety belts?
That's because, transportation experts will say, it is safer that way.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that sets guidelines to prevent roadway crashes, injuries and deaths, does not recommend the installation of seat belts in school buses.
Instead, the NTSB recommends buses to be designed with what is called an "occupant protection system," or "compartmentalization."
If you've ever been one to notice, school bus seats are solid, close together, with high backs and they are well-padded. The NTSB believes that in a crash, a child is better off getting jostled between two strong, but padded seats, than being belted in one.
Sounds crazy at first, doesn't it? Well, here is what federal safety officials think about putting seat belts in school buses:
Lap and shoulder belts would require stiffer seats, and right there you would lose that extra padding that could make a difference in a crash. In a forward crash, a seat belt can cause a torpedo-like effect with a child's head.
That is because when the body is restrained, and a severe crash occurs, the head will whip forward, and which isn't good when there is a stiffer seat in front of the passenger. Serious head injuries could occur and the lap belt could also cause serious abdominal injuries.
Some have proposed facing bus seats backward to solve the problem of forward crashes but then, you could cause some children to get motion sickness on the way to school each morning. It would also open up a problem with back-end crashes.
There is also the problem of children not wearing the seat belts when they are available, exposing them to even more danger with less-padded seats. New Jersey protects bus operators from blame if the belts were not worn by injured children.
There are statistics backing up these seat belt claims. The NTSB says a child is eight times safer riding a school bus than riding with his or her own parents.
Plus, the safety board says school buses, which carry more than 23 million children daily, log an average of seven child deaths across the nation each year. Any number higher than zero is too high, as the community of Chesterfield will attest but seven out of 23 million provides extremely low odds.
Don't let this article leave you thinking wearing seat belts in a regular vehicle is unnecessary - that is a completely different ball game.
School buses are not constructed with sleekness in mind. They are built to keep people safe, which is why they are so boxy, clunky, and heavy.
Again, that is from my Deep Six podcast back in 2005.
Not everyone agrees with the concept of "compartmentalization." Here are a few links endorsing different views: -http://www.ncsbs.org/testimonies/seat_belt_background.htm -http://www.autosafety.org/school-bus-seat-belt-mandate-urged-leading-safety-groups-0
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those affected by that horrible crash in Chesterfield.
matt o'donnell parenting reports, parenting, matt o'donnell
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