NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Dangers Lurk In School Bus Seat Belts

September 22, 1999

The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that school buses equipped with seat belts pose dangers to children. By holding a child's pelvis firmly in place, the belts allow the torso to crack like a whip -- with the child's head striking a seat back or a hard object with greater force than if the child's whole body had been thrown.

The board recommended instead that bus seats be redesigned. That could include arm rests, ceiling pads, making seat backs even higher, or molding the seats and seat backs to the human form and covering them with something less slippery. That, however, might reduce capacity to two children a seat, rather than three.

  • The NTSB says that while lap belts are clearly a problem, lap-shoulder combinations are not much better.
  • Only New York and New Jersey currently require seat belts on the buses.
  • Florida and Louisiana will require their installation on new buses in a few years.
  • California's legislature has just passed a school bus seat belt bill, but the state's governor has not said whether he will sign it or not.

School bus accidents produce only nine deaths a year in the U.S. Even with better protection against side impact accidents and rollovers, there would still be five or so deaths annually, experts say.

In fact, the low death rate has produced such a sketchy database that investigators could not find accidents involving belt- equipped buses to analyze. So they had to rely on computer models instead.

Source: Matthew L. Wald, "No Gain Seen in Seat Belts on School Bus," New York Times, September 22, 1999.


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