Seat belts. Kids are so trained to use them that they don’t even think about not putting one on when they take a seat in a car. The glaring exception to the rule of buckling up our kids has always been school buses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has long said seat belts are unnecessary on school buses. Wait, back up that school bus because they’ve changed their mind and are now recommending every school bus have three-point seat belts.
Laws enacted back in 1977 set us up to have school buses without seat belts in the first place. Those laws were due to be changed in 2011 to require three-point seat belts. That change happened, but only requires “voluntary” seat belts, which basically means it doesn’t require a darn thing.
The only states that have school bus seat belt requirements are Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York. Even in those four states, it’s only a two-point lap belt and their use is mandatory only in New Jersey. That leaves 46 states with no requirements at all. It sounds a little crazy because it is crazy. This is the safety of our kids and we’re playing fast and loose with it.
There are all sorts of excuses, er, reasons why seat belts haven’t been seen as necessary in school buses. There’s something called compartmentalization, which is the idea that kids are safe in the little box formed between the high seat backs on which they sit. Anyone who has ever been on a school bus knows kids are rarely sitting perfectly, facing forward, and minding their manners.
There’s also the argument that it could reduce bus capacity, despite those who manufacture school bus seat belts saying that’s not the case. The cost of installing them is another objection. One manufacturer, IMMI, says they can equip buses with seat belts at ten cents per child. Ten cents. You can’t even buy a cup of sludge-like gas station coffee for that price.
NHTSA has been vague on the topic, never issuing clear guidelines, but insisting that installing them was unnecessary and too darn expensive. That all changed last Sunday when NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind reversed their previous stand and said school bus seat belts can save lives and absolutely should be installed on school buses. Who knew?
Everyone. Every last one of us knew, but somehow this oversight was allowed to slip by for years putting our kids in unnecessary danger. NHTSA has finally stated the obvious, but now the challenge is to get those seat belts installed. There is sure to be a mighty push-back for the same reasons NHTSA didn’t recommend them in the first place.
What’s a parent to do?
Be a vocal proponent of getting your local school buses retrofitted with seat belts. Talk to other parents. Talk to the school. Talk to town officials. Talk to anyone and everyone and let them know that this needs to be done.
You wouldn’t think of letting your kid ride in a car without a seat belt, and now NHTSA has given parents the support they need to see that kids are just as safely secured on their way to school.