Experts: Modern school buses safe without seat belts

Posted December 21, 2010

— Police have charged a school bus driver with rear-ending another bus on Monday in Cary. The chain-reaction sent 35 students to the hospital.

The type of crash is exactly what the state’s school buses are built for, said Derek Graham, chief of the Transportation Services Section in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Graham said the front-to-rear collision damaged the buses badly enough that they weren't drivable, but the students bumped into the foam-covered seatbacks, which absorbed the impact.

“Bumps and bruises, but they’re on their way. That’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Graham said.

Graham said those foam-covered seats are just one of the ways engineers have made the school bus the safest form of transportation. He said seat belts are not necessary because of this.

“They’re more safe than any other passenger vehicle. The protection there is in the bus itself,” he said.

But some parents disagree.

"We put them in our cars with seat belts and we have to, so I think that any time they're in a moving vehicle, whether it's a state vehicle or our own vehicle, that they should be required to be in seatbelts," said Deirdre Wesley.

Her son had to get 10 stitches when he fell and hit his head while wrestling on a school bus.

Another parent, Karen Dickson, said she supports installing seat belts on buses.

"There should be some safety regulations. They regulate school lunches and, you know, the kids need to have some safety on the buses with so many wrecks," Dickson said.

Cary school bus wreck prompts seatbelt debate Cary school bus wreck prompts seatbelt debate

Installing seat belts in school buses would add about $10,000 to the cost of an $85,000 school bus.

There are other issues with seat belts, such as how to get students to wear them properly or wear them at all. Another concern is unexpected circumstances, like an emergency on the bus.

“How do you evacuate 60 elementary school kids who are buckled up? How do you get them out of a burning school bus?” said Jeff Tsai, director of the pupil transportation program at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University.

Tsai said buckling up students is something school systems need to study. He said the belts can make buses safer, but modern school buses don’t need them.

“One of those things it might be nice to have, but from a safety perspective, I’m not sure it gets us any more (safe),” Tsai said.

Six states require seat belts on school buses.

North Carolina lawmakers studied the issue a few years ago, but researchers concluded that adding seat belts would not significantly improve student safety.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • OHn8tive Dec 22, 2010

    Deirdre Wesley said "Her son had to get 10 stitches when he fell and hit his head while wrestling on a school bus." Maybe she should have been a better parent and taught her kid that it is wrong to wrestle on the school bus!
    While I would love to have seatbelts on the buses, the fact is that the buses are used for K-12 students. High School students are 2 to a seat, while younger kids have 3 in each seat. The variation in student sizes it harder to design an all-purpose seat.
    Additionally, buses accidents tend to be less tragic than when in a car. Due to size and the fact that there are more cars on the road than buses, there are far more fatal car accidents than bus. That's why you need to have a seatbelt in a car, but not the bus.

  • alwayslovingu30 Dec 21, 2010

    If the crooked state goverment can go without seat bealts in A bus Y do I have to waer one in my car oop its because the state wants my money if I dont do their bidding

  • anne53ozzy Dec 21, 2010

    As for water hazards, I am sure the technology is there to cause belts to release when saturated to a certain point with a liquid, even if they simply dissolved after a period of time w the appropriate signal transmitted.

  • anne53ozzy Dec 21, 2010

    This is nonsense. Period. Perhaps seat belts are not the best solution but if it is so safe, why are passenger busses designed for commercial transport so different? I know you can't have kids obscurred as is high back seat design but the current model is a tragedy waiting to happen.

  • mep Dec 21, 2010

    A few years back in Texas, a school bus was hit by a Cola delivery truck and went off into a water filled gravel pit. If the kids had been wearing seat belts, many more would have died. However, that did not stop the parents of the dead and survivors from suing EVERYONE that had been involved. (cola company, gravel pit owner, school district, rescue crews, transportation dept) Including even the bus manufacturer. Then the fire dept sued the cola company because of the additional risk rescue crews had to take to save the kids. Deep pockets make for greedy people... and the kids were no safer.
    On a personal note, the govt should not have the right to mandate personal safety such as seat belts. But until the govt stops paying the bills for personal stupidity, the mandates will continue.

  • geosol Dec 21, 2010

    Who needs experts when we've got a place like this where anyone with an internet connection can fill us in with their vast knowledge? Actually, some of us still hold knowledge, education, and experience in high regard; its kind of fun to read comments from those who don't.

  • RB-1 Dec 21, 2010

    There would have been numerous deaths in the Carrollton, KY bus collision anyway, cause the truck that hit it ruptured the gas tanks over which many students were directly seated.

  • BIGDAWGShouse Dec 21, 2010

    unclegrits....political really?

  • RB-1 Dec 21, 2010

    So they get tossed around like baggage, to get cuts and bumps.


    Using their logic then, we shouldn't be required to have seat belts in private vehicles either.

  • Alexia.1 Dec 21, 2010

    A bus that rolls over at 55mph could definitely kill people. So, he cannot say a seatbelt is not helpful. What is not helpful are those stupid flashing lights on the top of the buses that they installed after the Carrollton crash. If a driver is so drunk that he cannot determine he's going down the wrong side of the road and see an oncoming bus and at least get into one late, he is definitely not going to change course over a flashing light.

    On seatbelts in general, though, I do not think the government should be telling people they must wear them. It's a bit intrusive on personal liberties.