This question is front and center after recent school bus accidents including a mishap in rural Carroll County that left one student dead and injured 13 others. The victim, a 17-year-old youth, was pinned under the bus after it left the road and overturned.
A move to require seat belts in Georgia school buses can be expected in the 2011 General Assembly. Coroner Randy Daniel of Douglas County has said he would push for such legislation in the wake of the fatal bus accident.
Six states mandate school bus seat belts: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas (which has not fully funded the costs). Cost is, of course, a huge factor. The University of Alabama is involved in a study of installing seat belts in school buses, and a report is expected before year’s end.
At first blush, requiring seat belts in school buses seems a no-brainer. But the answer is not quite so simple and easy. The National Transportation Safety Board studied “Bus Crashworthiness Issues” in 1999 and concluded: “Seatbelts do not prevent injuries in all crash situations and can actually increase injuries with the current school bus seat design.” The board called for development of a crash protection system “that would protect school bus passengers in most accident scenarios.”
The NTSB said: “School buses are designed with a clever occupant protection system that fits both a kindergarten student and a high school senior without the need for seat belts. This occupant protection system is called compartmentalization: the seats are strong, closely spaced together, high backed, well padded, and are designed to absorb energy during a crash. Compartmentalization works best in frontal and rear impact scenarios.”
And the agency said, “School buses are one of the safest forms of transportation on the road today. An average of only 7 passengers are fatally injured each years as school buses carry over 23.5 million children daily.”
There you have the official side of the story. The question is: should Georgia mandate school bus seat belts or keep trusting in compartmentalization?