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When you're in a car, preparing for a fantastic ride, there's one thing you still do. By default, buckle up. As almost everybody does, one must ensure that all necessary clothing, food, and entertainment for the journey are ready. And one gets in the car and double-checks if everyone is properly buckled up before driving out. Wearing seat belts has been second nature for most people due to the fact that they save many lives during the frequent car accidents that occur. As a result, it seems plausible that their use on buses will shield students' lives in the event of a rare accident involving a school bus. While there are a lot of people who believe that notion, a survey conducted by the National Education Association among bus drivers indicates that seatbelts in buses would be a greater hazard than a safety feature (National Education Association, 2015). In addition to the opinion of these hands-on participants in school bus safety, authorities like the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Canada Safety Council have also indicated that safety belts would do little to improve the safety of school bus passengers due to a myriad of factors involving this mode of transportation.
As per the Canada Safety Council, school buses are one of the safest modes of transportation, with an enviable record that reveals that they are 16 times safer means of transport in comparison to family or personal vehicles in a kilometer of travel (Canada Safety Council, n.d.). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also ranks school buses as the safest mode of transport within the nation. Experts from both organizations offer numerous rational on why the addition of safety belts would not make any difference for school buses. The transportation authority in Canada has established a rigorous standard of safety for any school buses designed or imported into the country. School buses are required to have specialized break systems, highly padded seats that cushion crash impacts, emergency exits, installed escape hatches on the roof and specialized lighting (Canada Safety Council, n.d.). School buses in the U.S.A are also made with similar standards. Unlike other vehicles, the size and height of school buses are design to withstand collisions of high impact. They have flashing red lights that signal other nearby vehicles , cross-view mirrors that provide an accurate view of the road, reinforced sides to withstand impact, bright colors for conspicuousness and stop sign alarms to maintain a zone of safety around the bus (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2014). In addition to having tall and energy-absorbing seat backs in the event of a crash, seats within a school bus are closely spaced in a process known as compartmentalization, which ensures that passengers remain in their seats during accidents (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2014). The seats are also anchored to the floor of the bus for stability. Therefore, school buses are not built like other vehicles and as such, they do not require seat belts as a life-saving mechanism. The different design and construction already function as safeguards.
Furthermore, experts within Canada Safety Council posit that a safety belt would be more of a hazard during the common head-on collision crashes due to the increased risk of head injuries. Seat belts are designed to hold the pelvis of passengers in place, which sees their torsos whip forward. In a bus, a child in a seatbelt would be shunted forward with great force and forcefully hit the seat in front causing serious head and neck injuries (Canada Safety Council, n.d.). The impact would be less forceful if the whole body were propelled forward. Seat belts that are primarily constituted of shoulder belts cause injuries to the abdomen due to submarining, a motion that is caused by the similar forceful whipping forward of a child (Canada Safety Council, n.d.) Traditional safety belts are combined with both the lap and shoulder belts, which require stiffer seats to install. The energy absorbent high seat backs would have to be exchanged for common car seats, therefore increasing the instances of injuries for those who do not buckle up. Although it is common knowledge for passengers to buckle up, the logistics become increasingly complicated when children are involved. It is sometimes difficult to guarantee that all 70 children have put on their seat belts, while ensuring they have been properly adjusted to suit the size of the students after every trip. The responsibility is usually imposed on the drivers, who mostly have their backs to the students as they maneuver the large vehicle. Even if they see to it that all students are buckled up at the beginning of a trip, there is no guarantee that they will remain as such during the trip (National Education Association, 2015). As a tool that will be primarily utilized by children, the seat belts are bound to get damaged and the driver or other relevant school authorities might not realize it in time. Safety belts have also been known to hinder evacuation (Canada Safety Council, n.d.). For adults, taking instructions on how to free oneself from the wreckage of a car by unhooking or disentangling a safety belt is possible. The same might not be applicable for students, especially if they are very young, and therefore incapable of acting responsibly to secure their safety. Their fear will more often than not cripple any movement, effectively entrapping them in the wreckage (National Education Association, 2015). The bus driver survey by the National Education Association reveals that the bus drivers are concerned that some students might choose to utilize the heavy buckles as weapons, therefore inflicting harm on other students (National Education Association, 2015). Therefore, it might be safer for the students if they travel in the school buses as they are in comparison to adding safety belts.
Unfortunately, accidents involving school buses do take place and students lose their lives. When such an incident occurs, the general public raises questions on the possible use of safety belts to preserve said lives. Regardless of the illustrated hazards caused by safety belts, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the belts are installed on new school bus models (Poon, 2017). Instead of the traditional shoulder and lap belts, the agency recommends the installation of three-point seat belts that are more effective for children, regardless of shape and size. Such belts are bound to eliminate the injuries caused by inertia during a crash and are essential for preserving the safety of the students in case of rollovers and sideways collisions (Poon, 2017). There are those who also state that the design of the buses is not enough to protect children from fatalities in a crash. Compartmentalization, which works by packing children close together, does not work in the instance where the collision occurs from the side of the bus (Poon, 2017). For these reasons, proponents of the safety belt believe that children should be given the option of having safety belts in the vehicles, in addition to the increased safeguards created by the design. However, the costs of implementing the measure make it difficult to achieve. For instance, it cost an average of 7000 dollars to equip a school bus with belts. The sitting capacity of the bus would also be lowered, which would prompt more children to walk, bike or get dropped off at school, therefore increasing the likelihood of fatalities (Poon, 2017). Such funds could also be utilized to develop other measures to increase school bus safety, such as the proper training of drivers and development of safety around the school bus by educating pedestrians and other motorists on the conduct to follow while in the vicinity of the bus.
Overall, the addition of safety belts to school buses increases the danger instead of preventing it. Due to their unique design, school buses are already safe for children, as illustrated by the excellent statistics. The use of safety belts also has its dangers, such as the increased chance of head, neck and abdominal injuries and the possible entrapment that may occur during accidents. There are also a lot of logistics to consider for the children in regards to buckling up and preserving the state of the seatbelts. Conversely, seat belts might save the lives of children if the bus is hit from the side or it rolls over several times. Three-point belts are unlikely to cause injuries to the child in a school bus accident. However, due to the cost, it is irresponsible to invest such large sums of money in a sector that is relatively safe. Instead, investments should be made to develop other areas of safety that contribute to the safe transportation of students.
Canada Safety Council. (n.d.). Is there a need for seat belts on school buses? Retrieved March 6, 2017, from https://canadasafetycouncil.org/child-safety/there-need-seat-belts-school-buses
National Education Association. (2015). NEA - Seat Belts, School Buses and Safety. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from http://www.nea.org/home/19085.htm
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2014, August). Safety In Numbers. Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2016/images/11/22/s1n_school_bus_issue-august.pdf
Poon, L. (2017, January 26). Why Don't School Buses Have Seat Belts? - The Atlantic CityLab. Retrieved from http://www.citylab.com/commute/2017/01/why-the-school-bus-seat-belt-debate-lives-on/514370/
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