COLUMBIA - Most school buses in the United States do not have seat belts or a similar restraint to protect kids from a car crash, including those Columbia Public Schools uses through First Student. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sets national standards for school bus safety, requires seat belts for buses under 10,000 pounds.
But larger, yellow school buses that most people see every day, do not require seat belts. These school buses are designed and constructed differently from passenger cars. School buses protect passengers through "compartmentalization." This design includes seats with high backs, filled with energy-absorbing material, placed close together, and with strong anchorages.
The National Safety Council says school buses are forty times safer than a car. The decision on whether or not seat belts should be mandatory on school buses is left to individual states. There are only six states which require seat belts on buses those include California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
Robyn Sinclair said she will not let her children take the bus because there are no seat belts. Of the handful of parents KOMU 8 spoke with, the majority agree there should be seat belts on school buses.
Coordinator of Transportation for Columbia Public Schools David Wilson said he understands parents concerns, but he said buses are the safest form of transportation because they are heavier vehicles.
Some studies have shown seat belts on school buses may cause even greater risks in the incident of a crash. Seat belts work only if they are worn correctly, which poses a challenge on school buses that carry students ranging in age from teenagers in high school to children in elementary school. The weight difference and size between the kids means seat belts would need to be altered and fitted each ride.
Wilson also argues that seat belts on buses could actually be a safety hazard. He said seat belts would have the passenger jerk forward at the waist, most likely resulting in neck or abdominal injuries. However, if the bus flips, Wilson said the "kids will flip also."
If a law were put into effect in Missouri, and an accident occurred where a student was not wearing his or her seatbelt then the driver and/or monitor of school buses would be held liable.
Another reason some states don't have seat belts on buses is because of the amount of money it would cost to install the belts. According to the NHTSA, it costs approximately $10,000 to add seat belts to one school bus. Also, with seat belts fewer kids would fit on a school bus, so school districts would have to purchase more buses to make up for the difference.
While Wilson said he doesn't think seat belts are necessary for student safety, he added a trained and qualified bus driver is necessary. He said school districts and bus companies who contract with districts should hire well-trained drivers who understand the safety precautions that need to be taken with many lives in their hands.