Seat belts on school busses. Why not?

Logic (because they are not used) dictates that seat belts in school busses are not helpful, if not more dangerous. What is it about their usage that makes this so?

Seat belts are beneficial if properly worn. However:

  • Many children (particularly the younger ones) aren’t going to be buckling themselves in properly, nor stay buckled in (hell, we could say that about adults, much less children). If you rely on the bus driver to take care of this, this would make the trip unreasonably long (and probably also open the driver / bus company up to lawsuits if a child is injured due to not being properly buckled in).

  • Smaller children are small enough that they’re supposed to be sitting in child seats, or at least booster seats, when riding in their families’ cars. A school bus can’t easily accommodate the variation in body size between different ages of children (since the same school bus, today, could be transporting children from ages 5 to 18).

They may save a few lives but school bus accidents where seat belts would have helped are extremely rare in the U.S. and typically only number in the single digits per year. Some people always say that even one life would make a given proposal worthwhile but you run into a statistical problem with really rare events like this.

It is very easy to introduce even more harm even with seemingly sensible solutions. In this case, lap belts are not especially effective at preventing injuries or death and come with some risks of their own. They can cause the energy in certain types of crashes to be transferred to the child’s upper body and propel their head into the seat in front of them very quickly because their lower body is restrained by the lap belt. That can cause an even more serious injury than no lap belt. The only way around that is full shoulder harnesses but I have never seen that seriously proposed for U.S. style school buses because they aren’t designed for it.

Traditional lap belts can also be used as weapons, because, let’s face it, some schoolkids aren’t the most civilized beasts in the world. You can hurt someone badly with an airplane style lap belt with a large metal buckle and rest assured that would happen with some regularity because kids will use whatever they have on hand when a fight breaks out. Then, there is the issue of cost and compliance which cannot be ignored. What happens when certain lap belts get destroyed and there aren’t enough for the normal number of riders?

If you are going to go through that much effort to make schoolbuses safer, there are much more effective ways to do it like better enforcement for vehicles driving recklessly around them.

Bus driver here,
The bus I drive is not a “School Bus” and I do carry school children in the transit bus I drive.
This bus has seat belts and I am required to force compliance of the seat belt policy.
It is a pain doing so and the children rebel and then we have to get our management together with the school officials and all. Yes I would like to pull over and eject anyone who disobeys but that isn’t going to happen.
Our buses are not built like a school bus, and what I mean by that is our windows are large and are of tempered glass and many open with fragile latches so belts are the only hope of keeping anyone inside in the event of a roll over, Not so with a School Bus, they are built with much more side re-enforcement and the windows are small and the frames are much like a cage to keep people inside.
Now the school I deliver children to is a Charter School.
Adults that ride our busses are on their own if we are stopped and they are not buckled but I am responsible if a child is not buckled!

Cecil’s take:
Why are there no seatbelts on school buses?

It has a lot to do with the fact that seat belts on school buses are a solution in search of a problem. People getting killed in car wrecks is a pretty common problem, and you might think that this would easily extend to school buses, but it doesn’t.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 42,000 people are killed in car crashes every year. How many children in school buses are killed per year on average? 6.

And really, having looked at these statistics before, what I found was that in most years the number is actually lower than that, it’s just that once every now and then a tractor trailer will plow into a school bus or a bus will end up sitting on train tracks when it thought it had cleared the tracks and gets whammed by a train. Seat belts probably wouldn’t help much in those types of cases.

As Shagnasty said, you’d probably have kids horsing around and causing injuries. The injury rate of school buses is so low currently that you’d probably end up having more kids injuring each other with belts than you’d prevent by having the belts there.

Here is a report on school bus related fatalities but read it carefully if you choose to read it at all. This is data from 2003 - 2012.

“Since 2003, there have been 1,353 people killed in school-transportation-related
crashes—an average of 135 fatalities per year. Occupants of school transportation
vehicles accounted for 8 percent of the fatalities
, and nonoccupants (pedestrians,
bicyclists, etc.) accounted for 21 percent of the fatalities. Most (71%) of the people
who lost their lives in these crashes were occupants of other vehicles involved (for
more information see Table 5).”

In other words, the problem of kids being killed while riding on a school bus does exist but it is an extremely small risk statistically. The risk of dying on any school transportation vehicle for those years was 104 people spread out over 10 years and a lapbelt wouldn’t have prevented deaths in many of those cases. That is even much safer than commercial plane travel for the kids on the bus as a function of time spent in transit. It is hard to improve on numbers that strong. I get the sentiment that we should always try but, if you look at the statistics in the article, you will see that the much greater risks are for people outside of the bus.

My granddaughter says there are seat belts on her school bus.

And her parents let her ride on it?!? :eek: :eek:


From what I’ve seen in my neighborhood (and it matches what I remember from riding a bus many years ago), the most dangerous time for a kid is just after they exit the bus and are crossing the street, with the buses “STOP” arm displayed & lights flashing, and still some oblivious or self-important driver speeds past without stopping.

So more law enforcement to catch drivers who do this, like Shagnasty said, would be more effective.

Why not?

Did you read the thread?

How about the linked article?

Let us know if you still don’t understand

Federal law requires lap/shoulder belts on all school buses under 10,000 lbs. And six US states have required seat belts on all school buses of all sizes for many years. So there is some real world data available that suggests otherwise.

According to the NHTSA:

Weapons? Can you find an example of this ever actually happening? There are already millions of school buses on the roads that are fitted with seat belts so if I can “rest assured that it would happen”, it must already have.

Apparently it happened to grue:

Here is what I was referring to. There is a specific type of spinal and abdominal injury associated with the use of lap belts among children. It can be much more serious than no restraint at all. The use of shoulder restraints prevent it but I can’t see a way to retrofit all of the existing school buses in the U.S. with 3-point shoulder harnesses without a complete reconfiguration and massive expense.

“So began my up-close and all too personal real-life, “case-based” tutorial on lap belt-associated car crash injuries. We worked our way through the diagnosis and management of the fracture of the second lumbar vertebrae (initially missed), the bowel obstruction and infarction (requiring resection of 10 cm of the jejunum due to loss of blood supply), body casts, superior mesenteric artery syndrome (requiring central total parenteral nutrition and flat in hospital bed for over nine weeks), drug complications, nosocomial infection, eventual rod placement for stabilization of the spine, 10 weeks in hospital, 22 weeks off school and long term intermittent chronic abdominal pain. We are, however, deeply grateful. She is one of the fortunate ones. She is not paralyzed from the waist down.”

There’s a clue there: the classic full-length school bus weighs in at around 18,000 pounds before you start filling it with meat. That mass works to the advantage of the bus and its passengers: In a collision with a 4,000-pound car, the occupants of the car are going to experience far more violent deceleration than the occupants of the bus. Here’s a lovely head-on collision with a pickup truck; the bus is at a standstill prior to the collision, and barely reels backward at impact, while the pickup truck comes to a violent stop. Injuries to the bus occupants were minor.

Given the mass advantage and the fact that buses are driven by professional drivers (as opposed to a stressed-out, distracted mom on her cell phone driving her own kids to school), and their high conspicuity, bus accidents with serious injuries are rare. If you’re serious about preventing them, you need to install seat belts in the entire national school bus fleet, which is an expensive proposition. Someone somewhere will respond with the old saw “if it saves one life, it will be worth it.” No, goddamit, it won’t. When we have limited resources available, we cannot assign a human life infinite monetary value. You have to assign a finite and reasonable value - 6 million dollars is used in aviation - and weigh the cost of your proposed life-saving measure against the monetary value of the lives it will save. Engineer_comp_geek’s stat is that 6 people are killed per year in school bus crashes. With 480,000 school buses in the US, that means you get to spend a maximum of $75 per bus per year on a seat belt installation/inspection/maintenance/repair program; any more than that, and it’s just not worth it.

Gary T was making a joke. I chuckled.

Also, the seats on a school bus are designed so that if there were a crash, they act as a cage to keep the occupants from being badly harmed. The seatbacks will “give,” absorbing momentum. There will be injuries, but few life-threatening ones.

The kinds of accidents that seat belts protect against are sudden-deceleration accidents. In cars, those generally mean either colliding with another car, or colliding with a fixed stationary object like a telephone pole. Neither is a major issue with school buses: For the first, the bus’s high mass means that it usually won’t decelerate much, and for the second, the drivers are all professionals and required to maintain their sobriety for their jobs, and so such collisions are quite rare.

There is also the issue that generally school bus seating is rather flexible. The seats fit two comfortably, 3 in a pinch. If the seats had seatbelts, you could not squeeze 3 students in a seat made for 2. You could have a situation where you could not take any more students because of a shortage of seatbelts, even if there was available space.