If it ever seemed peculiar to you that in many states a person can get a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt, while at the same time, seatbelts are historically absent from school busses—which transport children, arguably the most vulnerable members of any society— then you’ve probably been thinking about it the right way. A federal transportation panel just recommended that all new school buses in the country be equipped with lap and shoulder seat belts.
The recommendation was approved by the National Transportation Safety Board, but transportation companies and school districts aren’t legally required to to follow the guidance in regards to larger vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which comes up with the regulations for school buses, already requires some kind of seat belt to be used in small buses, but the same rule doesn’t apply to larger buses. At the moment, only six states, New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas, require school buses to be equipped with seatbelts.
The prevailing logic surrounding the subject has always been that kids are safe in large bus collisions because of the compact seating arrangement and the fact that the seatbacks absorb a lot of impact during a collision. Moreover, it’s well documented that kids are 70 times more likely to safely arrive at school in a bus than they are in a car. Despite this, the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation came just a few days after a New Jersey school bus hit a dump truck and killed one student and a teacher.
The thing is that, while many people can agree that seatbelts do increase the likelihood of avoiding injury in a crash, adding seat belts to school buses is extremely costly. Tennessee tried to pass a bill that would require seat belts in every school bus, but implementing it has been almost impossible because it would require almost $13 million to be paid by the district annually. So far, the Tennessee governor has approved $3 million in grants for school districts to seek if they want to add seat belts to buses.
Beyond that, it might not be worth it given the relative infrequency of school bus crashes combined with that fact that when said crashes happen and result in serious injury or death, the driver, school district, or transportation company was usually at fault.