Every vehicle on the road requires seat belts, except for buses. It feels like an accident of lawmaking: the highest-density vehicles don’t require their 15 to 75 passengers to be restrained, including school buses carrying children as young as 4. School bus accidents are very rare. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fewer than 140 people a year die in school transportation-related traffic incidents, and only 8 percent, or 11-12 of those deaths are people aboard the bus. Nearly half of those deaths are the driver, the only person aboard who is restrained.
This impressive safety record is probably mostly due to those drivers. School bus drivers are required to complete a commercial driver’s license course with additional endorsements, which they must refresh every four years, and maintain a clean driving record. They also compete in “rodeos” which are actually competitions of who can drive most safely and precisely.
Even so, seat belts on school buses seem like a common-sense safety addition. But a tradition of not having them and the difficulties of enforcing seat belt wearing on a bus full of children have long been a deterrent to even trying.
In Iowa, lawmakers are tentatively making gestures at changing that. Seventeen school districts in the state are poised to require them, and the state Board of Education has given early approval to add a state rule requiring that all new school buses at least have them. The cost of adding seat belts to new buses is about $8,000 per school bus—about 4 cents per child per day. The rule could become binding as soon as October.
This law doesn’t mean that children have to wear seat belts on school buses, but it is setting the early stages for such a law. Even having them available may improve safety results, without making their use mandatory. School districts around the country are beginning to choose buses with belts, but Iowa will be the first state to make it mandatory.
What do you think? Will seat belts on school buses make children safer? Let us know how you feel in the comments!