Children are safer on school buses equipped with seat belts. That is the conclusion of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety.
The group reports that school bus-related accidents injured around 62,000 students and killed 59 between 1991 and 1996. Studies have shown that school buses equipped with 28-inch high back padded seats and seat belts provide increased safety for passengers, because seat belts protect in side impact and roll over accidents where high back seats normally would not.
By installing seat belts on Indiana school buses, the habit of buckling up would be reinforced, the number of fatal accidents would decrease and students may be less distracting to the bus driver. School districts that require all of their new buses to have seat belts have yet to report any problems with the belts regarding safety.
Clay Community Schools Director of Transportation Frank Misner said that he is happy with Indiana's decision to not put seat belts on school buses.
"It's a good thought that they've put them in, but they're not the answer," Misner stated.
Misner said that without question a bus is the safest mode of transportation, partly because the "compartmentalization" provided by the high-back padded seats. The compartmentalization contains passengers to a small area during an accident by supplying a padded box, which keeps them from shifting far from their original seat. He also said that a passenger wearing a seat belt during an accident could easily become inverted, increasing the risk of injury. Seat belts can also be used as weapons by being slung around, inflicting injury instead of preventing it.
Clay County does have specially- designed buses with seat belts for pre-schoolers, because by law pre-schoolers can't ride without being restrained. Most of the pre-schoolers riding Clay County buses are disabled and need to be restrained. The belts help control the children because 3- and 4-year-olds are not knowledgeable on how to ride the bus.
The cost to put seat belts on new buses is estimated at an additional $1,100 for a 65-passenger bus. Misner says it would cost more because seat belts would cut the passenger capacity from three to a seat to two limiting buses from 66 riders to 44 which would mean more buses, drivers, routes and aids to police the use of the seat belts.
"We may be forced into it someday but right now, we're all pretty happy with what we've got," Misner says.
Misner took the director of transportation job four years ago and says that he has seen a lot of changes in bus designs over those few years. Most of the changes involved bus drivers but have made the buses safer for all passengers.
"(Buses) are big and ugly but they are safe," Misner states.