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The Raging Debate Over Seatbelts in School Buses

50,000 School Buses Recalled Nationwide for Seats That Might Not Protect Children

Even as parents in Chattanooga Tennessee are mourning the deaths of at least five children whose lives were cut short when their school bus crashed into a tree, the debate over whether children traveling by school buses should wear seatbelts has been revived. According to a CNN news report, the 24-year-old school bus driver has been arrested and charged with vehicular homicide. As the investigation continues into this tragic incident, many people across the country are left wondering if those young lives could have been saved, had the school bus been equipped with seatbelts.

Recommendations for Seatbelts

There is no federal law that requires children to wear seatbelts on school buses. Only six states – New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas, have laws requiring school buses to be equipped with seatbelts for passengers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that newly-manufactures school buses be equipped with seatbelts. The National Safety Council (NSC) has also made similar recommendations. School bus accidents are rare, but when they do occur, the consequences, as we saw in Tennessee, are devastating.

Is it a Question of Money?

So, if it is safer for children travel in school buses with seatbelts, why are these recommendations falling on deaf ears? It’s apparently the cost of getting seatbelts installed in the buses. The average incremental cost of equipping a large school bus with seatbelts would be between $7,346 and $10,296.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has joined the list of other safety agencies that have recommended the use of three-point seatbelts in school buses. But school districts around the country are hesitating because of the high costs involved. They are measuring the safety risk against using the funds for other, perhaps more urgent, purposes.

Seatbelts Save Lives

But we have seen instances where having these seatbelts paid off. We saw that right here in Orange County when a school bus carrying students home from El Rancho Charter Middle School in Anaheim crashed into a light pole and trees splitting open on its left side. The accident was strikingly similar to the one that occurred in Tennessee. However, no one died in the Anaheim school bus crash because the bus was equipped with seatbelts.

Among the general traveling population it has been proven beyond dispute that seatbelts save lives. We need to apply that same logic and those same facts to school buses and mandate that every single school bus be equipped with seatbelts. Whether that money comes from state or federal budgets, this issue needs to be prioritized for the safety and well being of our children.

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