PRESS EDITORIAL: Give children equal protection—on school buses

If the ramifications weren’t so grim, the litany of reasons recited repeatedly to excuse the absence of seat belts on school buses would be amusing.

Amusing because some of the reasons bear a marked similarity to the arguments made by skeptics when seat belts were first required on passenger cars and when states began mandating their use: the vehicles are safe enough without seat belts; seat belts make vehicles more dangerous because they limit passengers’ ability to escape fire and water threats; seat belts penalize consumers by adding unnecessary expense to vehicle sticker prices, and so on.

That was nonsense, of course. By consensus of safety experts, supported by a mountain of data, seat belts are held to be the most significant safety improvement in the history of automobiles.

Yet most American children are denied this protection when they travel in school buses.

It is true that there are some challenges with seat belts that are unique to school buses. School bus drivers and the companies employing them have said, for example, that school bus travel could become less safe because bus drivers could be distracted by having to monitor their riders’ seat-belt use.

The strongest argument against school-bus seat belts has been statistics that show that children in school buses, even without seat belts, are much safer than children in passenger cars.

More than 42,000 people are killed in traffic crashes every year. Several hundred children in the U.S. die each year walking or biking to school.

But the average number of children killed as passengers in school buses is about six per year.

That is reassuring, and a credit to school bus design and manufacture, as well as driver training, but ask the parents of the children injured in a recent school bus crash on an interstate highway near DeForest, Wis., what they think of those odds.

Or ask the parents of the 12 children who were killed and 37 who were injured in two horrible school bus crashes in 2016 in Maryland and Tennessee.

Last week marked a turning point in the school-bus seat-belt debate when the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation that states require that all new school buses be equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts.

The announcement carried extra weight because the NTSB had long sided with those who said seat belts weren’t needed on school buses. 

The agency saw the light after a study of the 2016 school bus tragedies found that seat belts would have saved lives in those crashes.

There’s sure to be some hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over this, but in states that follow the NTSB recommendation people are going to wonder why it took so long to give children in school buses the same protection available to everyone else in motor vehicles.

Federal rules already require seat belts in small school buses. Six states, including the two most populous, California and Texas, and New York with the fourth largest population, require them in all school buses.

In Wisconsin, the Legislature should be inspired to enact a school-bus seat-belt mandate by the Janesville School District, which for years required seat belts in all school buses serving its students.

It is estimated that building new large buses with seat belts will add about $10,000 to the cost of each vehicle.

Private school bus services will, of course, pass this on to school districts.  So be it. No one is going to call it a frivolous expense.

The NTSB recommendation will make a difference, but school buses should have seat belts whether or not they’re required. Intuitive thought, logic and common sense suggest it is right.

The children riding in school buses have been taught to “buckle up” for safety since they graduated from their baby car seat. It won’t be a cultural shock to have to buckle up in school buses.

And then there’s this: School bus drivers are given protection their young passengers don’t have—seat belts.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login