CALL 6: No state, federal requirements for school buses to have seat belts installed

Posted at 8:15 PM, Dec 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-16 20:15:23-05

Children grow up with car seats and a three-point harness, but when they head off to kindergarten, they may ride a school bus without seat belts. Call 6 Investigates found there are no state or federal requirements for school buses to have seat belts installed.

Monica Coburn, a former transportation director for IPS and Bartholomew County said while school buses are already safe because of their high seat backs, a seat belt will keep a child in their seat.

Many school districts have voluntarily installed seat belts on their buses, like IPS that have at least 100 buses with three-point belts. District officials also said they plan to do the same with future bus purchases.

"I think the directors in the school districts that have made that decision recognize compartmentalization can be enhanced, and if we can make the children in our state safer. They recognize that it's time to be moving in that direction,” said Coburn.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics supports seat belts on school buses, so why hasn’t legislation passed?

Installing seat belts could cost up to $10,000 per bus and some people have concerns about bus drivers unbuckling a seat belt for a child if there is a flood or fire.

Despite their support, the NHTSA’s article titled “School Bus Safety: Crashworthiness Research,” noted that American students are nearly eight times safer riding in a school bus than with their own parents and guardians in cars.

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The American School Bus Council agrees with NHTSA’s article and believes school buses don’t have seat belts for several reasons.

School buses are carefully designed on a different transportation and protection model than the average passenger car. The children are protected like eggs in an egg carton – compartmentalized, and surrounded with padding and structural integrity to secure the entire container. The seat backs are raised and the shell is reinforced for protection against impact.

There are other differences to consider between your car and your child’s school bus. In your car, you can supervise your child and ensure that your child’s belt remains properly secured. School buses use what is called “passive restraint,” meaning all a child must do to be protected is simply sit down in a seat. School buses also must be designed to be multi-purpose, fitting everything from a six year-old to an 18 year-old senior on the high school football team in full uniform.

Although legislation to require seat belts on school buses has previously failed, there are some legislation in the works for this session.

State Rep. Tony Cook is authoring a bill that would call for schools to equip new buses with seat belts as they replace old ones. He is looking into whether safety grant money could pay for the installation.

Cook released a statement on his proposed legislation:

“In the past, major safety councils did not come out strongly supporting the research that seat belts would improve safety, mainly because they were already the most safely-built vehicles on the road for transporting students. However, with most major national safety councils and boards now agreeing, based on extensive research, that seat-belts on buses would be added safety measures for reducing major injuries and death, I think it is time to install them. The research is also showing that students’ behavior is improved in buses with seat-belts and drivers are distracted less, which also enhances safety.

My bill would call for schools to equip new buses with seat belts as they replace their old buses. I am also seeking to clarify if safety grant money that schools currently receive could also be used to defer the cost of the belts. (This suggestion came from schools I have spoken with). My bill also seeks to have a matching grant fund established that would be a 50 percent match for the school to receive a grant from the state for the other half.”