By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Breaking down the myths of school bus seat belts

 

Rep. Gina McCabe has a proposed bill in the State Legislature to put seat belts in school buses, and the measure is encountering resistance from quarters holding on to myths rather than facts. Some of the sources are local, from drivers and administrators in the Goldendale School District.

"It's a terrible idea," one driver told The Sentinel in an email. "We'll never be able to make the kids wear them. They'll be whacking each other on the head with the buckles. We'd never get them out of the bus quickly enough in an accident. This is just dumb." Similar arguments, along with apprehension about the costs of putting in seat belts, have been heard at the top of the district hierarchy.

Yet research into the facts of school bus seat belts reveals an entirely different set of arguments.

Myth 1: Seat belts are too expensive. Not according to McCabe, who proposes that violators of school bus stop signs put up the money for bus belts. "The amount of fines collected from drivers who pass school buses when their stop paddles are out is enormous," McCabe states. Her plan would apply a portion of those fines to seat belts, while dividing up the rest of the funds to bolster schools and police departments. But even if that plan weren't workable, the cost of implementing seat belts comes out to pennies per day over the typical life of a school bus (12 to 16 years).

Myth 2: Kids can't evacuate quickly with seat belts. Information from Traffic Safety Marketing, a government agency, negates this idea. "Students are less likely to be injured in a bus accident if they are wearing a lap-shoulder seat belt," the agency writes. And "a properly restrained child who has not been injured can release himself and evacuate more quickly than an injured child." The fact is that buckles today are designed to meet federal motor safety standards, meaning they are tested to immediately release on the push of a button, even in a rollover accident.

Myth 3: Seat belts reduce bus capacity. This used to be true with older belt designs. Today, however, belts readily accommodate standard three-to-a-seat arrangements.

Myth 4: Seat belts will be the weapon of choice for rowdy riders. People who believe this are thinking of older lap-only belts, with a steel buckle hanging loose at the end of a long line, just about begging to be used to inflict pain. Those are gone. Today school seat belts are lap-to-shoulder only, and they retract fully. Even extended, they are secured by a very short piece of webbing, making it pretty much impossible to swing.

Myth 5: The established method of compartmentalization is better for keeping kids safe. Compartmentalization is a design approach developed in the 1960s that uses closely spaced, energy absorbent, high-backed padded seats. The idea was that in an accident, kids slam forward into the padded fronts, absorbing the energy of impact. Fifty years later, studies reveal that this concept works only for front and rear collisions but offers virtually no safety at all in side or rollover crashes. In those instances, kids are like clothes in a dryer. In every vehicle in which they have been introduced, lap-to-shoulder seat belts reduce injuries and fatalities by some 45 percent, according to studies from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Myth 6: Kids aren't going to wear them. Well, not if the schools don't get behind them, according to studies. The reality is that children are fully accustomed to wearing seat belts from their first ride home from the hospital after birth, right up to any given age. About the only place they aren't expected to wear them is on a school bus. In schools where seat belt usage has been implemented with full backing and enforcement from the administration, seat belt usage is extremely high.

 

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