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Despite Lack of Seat Belts, School Buses Prove Safe

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RALEIGH — New York and New Jersey require their school buses to have seat belts. About 20 years ago, the federal government recommended seat belts for the whole country, but it backed down. Some people believe that decision has had serious consequences.

While high seat backs may help in straight-on school bus crashes, the researcher argues they cannot provide protection in side impacts and rollovers, like the one that occurred in Alamance County Wednesday.

"There were kids dangling from the ceiling and they were holding onto seats," recalls Brittany Lang. "There was broken glass and blood covering the bottom of the bus."

The nine-year-old child has vivid memories of when the bus taking her on a field trip overturned three years ago in Wake County. The coach bus didn't have seat belts, and ever since, Brittany's mother has become an advocate of putting them in school buses.

Barbara Lang says it's ironic that we have seat belts in our cars and our kids are taught from the beginning that they have to be buckled up, yet they can go to school and not wear a seat belt.

The director of transportation for Wake County says he'd love to put seat belts in its 800+ school buses. But Dr. Wyatt Harper says it would cost nearly $1 million dollars to make the switch.

Harper adds that students are well protected by high padded seat backs. And it's hard to argue with numbers that show that the school bus is the safest form of transportation on the road. Statistics indicate that nationally about 15 students die every year in bus wrecks. That's out of more than 24 million that ride the buses daily.

Still, a leading school bus researcher at UNC notes that he's "never seen any good numbers on injuries, and we're trying to reduce injuries as well".


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