Seat Belts in School Buses Encouraged by Top National Safety Officials

Only six states in the U.S. have laws that require seat belt installation on school buses. Maine isn’t among them. That should change, according to Mark R. Rosekind, National Highway Traffic Safety administrator.

In a recent keynote speech to a group of school transportation officials in Virginia, Rosekind announced the NHTSA would putting more resources toward researching the effectiveness of seat belts on school buses. He further committed his agency to pursuing mandates requiring every school bus in the country to have three-point seat belt systems installed for children.

However, he didn’t indicate the NHTSA would be initiating the rule-making process, which is necessary to enact a mandatory rule. The aforementioned study will focus on school bus seat belt safety in Florida, California, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Texas. These are the states that have required schools to have seat belts installed on all vehicles responsible for transporting children.

Eight years ago, there was an effort by former Rep. John Tuttle (D-Sanford) to enact a similar measure in Maine. The proposal would not have been retroactive to existing buses, but would have required that all new school buses purchased by Maine public schools be equipped with seat belts for children. However, education officials were staunchly opposed to the measure, citing the financial implications.

Officials estimated the measure would cost the state about $11 million each year, which breaks down to about $11,000 per bus. The bill got no farther than committee and it hasn’t been raised again since.

Still, Tuttle doesn’t believe the issue should be dead in the water. He said the safety of students should be paramount, and it makes little sense that safety belts are required in every other vehicle except those that transport children every day. Tuttle told the Portland Press Herald he found educational leaders’ logic on this issue flawed.

And it doesn’t appear that position has much changed since Tuttle’s bill was introduced in 2007. The National Association for Pupil Transportation, which sponsored the summit at which Rosekind spoke, stated that while it appreciated his insight, it disagreed with his position. Without a federal mandate, the group stated it wanted to keep control of the issue local. They argued such a decision should be weighed according to concerns specific to that community, including budgetary constraints relative to the risk.

The NHTSA has been petitioned for years to start a rule-making process for mandatory school bus seat belts, most recently in 2010. That’s when nearly two dozen safety advocacy groups asked for an in-depth analysis of the issue. They cited a decade-old NHTSA study revealing bus passenger protection was sorely lacking, particularly in cases where buses were struck from the side or when they rolled over. However, the NHTSA at the time said the issue wasn’t substantial enough to warrant a mandate.

But then in 2012, a decade-long analysis found that 174 children had died in bus-related crashes. Of those, 55 were children aboard buses.

Statistically, this is a small number in light of the nearly 350,000 people who died in motor vehicle crashes nationally during that time. In fact, it’s less than 1 percent. However, preventing loss of even one child’s life – where possible – should always be a priority.

If you are dealing with student injury in Bangor, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Nation’s top highway safety official backs seat belts in school buses, Nov. 10, 2015, By Matt Byrne, Portland Press Herald

More Blog Entries:

Man Accused of DUI Manslaughter in Fatal Maine Accident, Oct. 15, 2015, Portland Injury Lawyer Blog

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