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Safer School Buses for Children – Why Seat Belts on Buses Should be Mandatory

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Children are required to wear a seat belt when riding in their family’s mini-van – so why are they not required to wear seat belts on school buses? As the nation mourns the loss of at least 5 children who were killed on a school bus in Tennessee, we question what could have been done to make the school bus safer for those children.

There’s no federal mandate that requires children to wear seat belts on school buses, and only six states – New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas – have laws requiring school buses to be equipped with seat belts for passengers. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Safety Council have both recommended that passenger seat belts be installed on newly manufactured school buses. In fact, evidence has proven that seat belts on school buses make them safer for children. In 2014, a school bus in California crashed in a similar fashion to the crash that just happened in Tennessee. However, the school bus in California was equipped with seat belts and there were no fatalities from the accident.  The National Traffic Safety Board found that the proper use of seat belts by student passengers in that crash reduced the severity of their injuries.

So why hasn’t the federal government or every state mandated seat belts on school buses? Money may be one of the deciding factors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the average incremental cost of equipping a large school bus with seat belts would be between $7,346 and $10,296. So far the decision to implement seat belts has been on a community level basis and many communities have found the money to install seat belts on school buses is not justified.

In the wake of the Tennessee school bus tragedy, we should be looking at not just seat belts on school buses but also at safe driving practices and ensuring that all drivers, particularly school bus drivers, are properly screened and trained. The school district that has hired a driver can be found liable if bus driver causes an accident that injures the children on the school bus – particularly if proper screening and training measures were not taken.

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