The great seat belt debate reared its ugly head again tonight on the news. Of course they showed a video that would scare any parent; a side impact collision where all the children were thrown to one side of the bus. They neglected to say how many of the children were hurt. They did throw out some numbers. 23.5 MILLION students ride school buses (not to be confused with mass transit or city buses). 17,000 children are injured annually. Now do the math- that is LESS THAN 1% or .007. Of these only 42% were injured in crashes. Of the remaining 58% many were the result of slips and falls that occurred when the kids weren’t in their seats, making seat belts a moot point.
As a school bus driver I take safety very seriously. I drive in NY so my bus is equipped with lap belts, however the State Government does not require students to wear them – they would rather put the liability on the individual school districts who in turn often are quite happy to pass the buck down to the individual driver. Why is it a liability? If worn improperly a lap belt can cause head or internal injuries, so if I required them to wear it and did not ensure that it was on properly I’m liable. If they are required to be worn I could be held responsible if a child was not wearing one and got hurt. In short I’m between a rock and a hard place.
ONLY five states require lap belts on buses; California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York. Why? Cost and statistics. It costs money to put seat belts in buses and more money to maintain them. Statistically school buses are the safest mode of transportation for kids. The seats are designed in compartments to protect students.
The new debate is whether or not to require a three point seat belt like the one in your car. If this system were implemented bus capacity would be decreased by one third. So you are not only adding the cost of the new seats and shoulder belts, you now also have to add more buses and drivers. Shoulder harnesses on buses aren’t going to fit little kids any better on the bus than they do in your car so you will also have to have some type of adjusters and quite probably booster seats. And they can still be worn incorrectly resulting in injury.
If you are a parent or grandparent spend a little time doing some research, there’s a lot of differing information out there and no easy answer.
These are the things you should discuss with your child to be sure they stay safe. It doesn’t matter if your child is 5 or 17.
1.If you’re not seated you’re not safe.
2.Never, ever sit sideways, not even (especially) when you are in by the window.
3.Sit all the way back in the seat, never on the edge.
4.Do not lean out into the aisle.
5.Face front; don’t twist around to talk to someone behind you. Do not lie down. (Neck and back injuries)
6.Do not stand up until the bus is completely stopped. If the (sub) driver needs you up front before your stop, move up at the stop before yours and be sure you are seated before the bus moves again.
7.Keep all your belongings in your tote bag and place your bag on the floor under the seat. (Loose objects tend to fly around and cause injuries in accidents) Know how to stow musical instruments or sports equipment safely. If you don’t know how ask your driver.
8.Do not eat or drink on the bus. (A hard stop can cause a child to choke.)
9.If you do wear a lap belt it should lay across your hip bones, just above your legs. It should be just loose enough that you can slide your hand in. Never wear it around your belly or chest.
10.Use the hand rail and wear proper shoes. Flip flops and high heels cause injuries.
As for my personal opinion on lap belts, see Rule #1. My grandchildren have been told to wear them and know how to wear them properly. I feel there is a greater likelihood of them getting hurt because they weren’t seated than there is for injury caused by the belt.
ETA 11/10/2006: The Amercian School Bus Council has issued a response to the American Academy of Pediatrics study that reignited the debate. Some very interesting points:
* Only 4 percent of all injuries to children each year in motor vehicle crashes during school travel hours are school bus related.
* One-third of the injuries sustained were minor strains and sprains.
* Of all children with school-bus related injuries, 97 percent were treated and released from the hospital immediately.
Additionally, the ASBC noted that a child in a school bus is 13 times safer than in a parent’s vehicle and 44 times safer than while traveling with a teenage driver.