Federal law does not currently require school buses greater than 10,000 pounds to have seat belts. It is up to each state to require seatbelts on school buses or not. But would students riding the bus be safer with a seat belt requirement?
Compartmentalization On School Buses
Currently, most states do not require seat belts to be installed on school buses over 10,000 pounds. For buses under 10,000 pounds however, they are required by federal law because these buses are smaller and do not use “compartmentalization” to keep riders safe. Compartmentalization utilizes structural safety features, like having high, shock-absorbing seat backs and keeping seats close together so riders are snugly positioned while the bus is operating. School buses use these safety features to keep students safe, but it doesn’t protect well in certain types of accidents.
Seat Belts Protect Better in Some Types of Accidents
Side impact crashes can result in injuries to occupants that are not protected by the safety features of compartmentalization. Also, rollover accidents can result in severe injuries, and even death, to occupants that typical school bus safety features would not protect. Three-point seat belts—those that include a shoulder strap as well as a waist strap—would protect occupants in rollover and side impact crashes in a way that compartmentalization cannot.
Driver Negligence and Error Is A Common Cause of School Bus Accidents
A common factor in school bus accidents is driver negligence or error. This could be on the part of the bus driver or the driver of another vehicle. Distracted driving is one example of this. For instance, a driver using a cell phone while driving. Another factor in school bus accidents is driver fatigue. Drivers who are sleep deprived are prone to making more errors while driving. This is especially a factor for school bus drivers when driving the bus early in the morning to school. A lack of sleep could be deadly. And lastly, driver error can cause school bus accidents. For instance, a driver of another vehicle may not see the warning lights or stop lights of a school bus and an accident may occur.
Common Injuries to Bus Occupants
Occupants involved in school bus accidents can sustain a number of injuries ranging from mild to severe. This could include facial injuries and head and traumatic brain injuries, including severe lacerations and disfigurement. Neck injuries, back injuries, and spinal cord injuries (including paralysis) can also be the result of school bus accidents. Bone fractures and internal injuries can also occur.
Common Injuries to Pedestrians
Sometimes a bus accident involves pedestrian injuries as well. Bus occupants who have exited the bus can be hit by a vehicle where the driver is unaware of (or ignoring) the stop lights on a school bus. Head injuries, neck injuries and musculoskeletal injuries are also common injuries for pedestrians.
School bus accidents are fairly common occurrences. Requiring seat belts on buses, while a costly addition and one that would likely be met with some resistance, could certainly improve the safety of these buses and keep more students safe from injury should a school bus accident occur.