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Not All Students Have Benefit of Seat Belts on Buses

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RALEIGH — The worst is over for a group ofpreschoolers who dangled from their seatbelts in an overturned bus Monday.Authorities say it was those restraints, required by the Headstartprogram that was transporting the children, that spared them.

Not all school transportation systems are required to use restraints,however. Only New York and New Jersey require seatbelts on allpublic school buses. In Wake County, only special education buses arerequired to have them.

Transportation officials say special construction, including extrapadding on seat-backs, makes school bus seats safe, but some parentsaren't so sure.

Armanda Noel, whose young son was slightly injured in Monday's crash,says she's thankful he was wearing a seatbelt.

Barbara Lang thinks the time has come for mandatory seatbelts on buses.Her son didn't have one when a commercial bus taking students on a fieldtrip crashed on Sunset Drive last year.

Lang has been campaigning for seatbelts in Wake Countyand statewide, but without success. One reason is that transportationofficials say they believe bus seat construction is as safe, if not safer,than seatbelts. They say children wearing lap-seatbelts tend to hit onlytheir heads on the padded cushion in front of them, while children withoutrestraints receive the impact over a wider range of their bodies. That,they say, reduces the danger of head and neck injuries.

While a Canadian crash test seems to support that view, many parentsacross the country still worry that a padded seat just isn't enough.

Officials say there is no shoulder belt yet it existence that is safeenough for use on buses. There is a Federal law pending that wouldrequire all Headstart buses to have seatbelts installed.

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