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October 25, 2010  |   Comments (7)   |   Post a comment

Alabama study: Seat belts result in negative cost benefits


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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The University of Alabama (UA) has released a report on the results of its study exploring the implementation of seat belts on school buses.

The three-year project was conducted for the Governor's Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts and the Alabama State Department of Education.

"This has been my favorite research project in a 35-plus-year career," said Dr. Dan Turner, the UA professor who led the study. "Most people in life never have an opportunity to work on a project of this magnitude, especially with such dedicated people. I am grateful that the Governor's Study Committee had the foresight to realize that someone needed to do this research, and the courage to step forward and organize the project in Alabama."

Joe Lightsey and Brad Holley of the pupil transportation section of the Alabama State Department of Education also helped manage the project, Turner said. "They exhibited deep concern for pupil safety at each step over the past three years," he noted. Four other UA faculty members, five staff members and 19 students helped conduct the research. "[They] knew that the outcome of this project would be a driving influence in future pupil safety," Turner told SBF.

The study examined the rate of seat belt use, the effects on bus discipline, the attitudes of stakeholders, the loss of capacity attributable to seat belts and the cost-effectiveness of the belts.

Key findings of the study include:

• The addition of seat belts would make already-safe school buses even safer.

• Based on 170,000 observations of pupils in pilot-project buses, this project established an average seat belt use rate of 61.5 percent.

• This study found thicker seatbacks and fixed buckle spacing could cause capacity losses of 5 to 18 percent, depending on the configuration of seats and rows. The bus fleet would need to expand 5 to 18 percent to offset the capacity loss.

• Using methodology from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in which the cost of an equivalent life saved is equal to $32 million to $38 million, researchers determined that the net benefit for seat belt implementation over one fleet life cycle would be between -$104 million and -$125 million. The negative net benefit suggests using more cost-effective safety measures rather than implementing seat belts across large school bus fleets, the researchers said.

• Most school bus pupil fatalities occur outside buses in or near loading zones. According to the researchers, if funding is to be spent on school bus safety, it appears more lives could be saved by investing in enhanced safety measures in loading/unloading zones. These treatments are likely more cost-effective than seat belts, the researchers said.

To read the full study report, click here.


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The use of seat belts on buses or the need for gun control usually come up for public debate after a bus accident or when a famous person is shot. Both become news for the moment until something new happens in the world. Should seat belts be required on school buses? I don't know. I believe it should be a district decision and not a Federal one. The report clearly states that more efforts should be made in safety outside of the bus. School buses will probably be required one day to have seat belts, this decision will be based on a political decision and not on a sound decision.

Barry Brooks    |    Oct 27, 2010 01:22 PM

"...You should not make judgments about issues like this until you know what it is like on both sides of the fence! In a perfect world the kids would sit down, put their belts on, be nice, and obey all the rules. I don't look for that to happen any day soon." --- No studies on buses, not even from mandated states, only deaths from ejection’s and court records not collected. Plenty on automobiles, vans, pickups and such but no room to list here, nor an issue. --- As far as not looking for positive behaviors from riders "to happen soon," likely will not happen on a bus where school bus drivers do not have the violence prevention training, authority on the bus by law, management support, and the experience that retaining a fleet of quality drivers helps provide to help make it happen. Kids can not just sit in their seats, even with belts, still requires work from the drivers, management, schools, parents and the well behaved riders to insure a safe bus environment for children, as well as a safe workplace for the bus driver. Not happening, no excuse, belts or no belts. The UK deals with slipshod schools and bus companies this way: "UK Publicity Orders - Corporate Responsibility: If a school or local authority are found guilty of the death of someone in their care, a court can impose a Publicity Order. Put simply this means that the court can force the school or local authority to advertise in the media that they have been found guilty for the death of someone. Bad news indeed for a school, in particular a private school which could essentially spell the end of the school - what parent would choose to send their child to a school that admitted it was responsible for a child's death? In many respects this can be worse than a large fine." (www.busk-uk.com). I welcome any version of seat belts, no issues with me. No belts? The only real option to savings on school buses long-term and not equipped with seat belts is never crash the bus. One district's experience with seat b

jkraemer    |    Oct 27, 2010 10:39 AM

I understand that seat belts save lives. They save lives by keeping passengers in the vehicle. I would like to know how many people die each year in an accident where they were wearing a seat belt.... We don't hear about that do we? So lets say we put seat belts in buses..... A bus roles over on its side, the driver is incapacitated, and the students are stuck in seat belts and can't evacuate. And by the way, I hope no one calls the driver or the school upset because little Johnny whacked little Bobby with the buckle of the belt. Like it or not, one day that will happen. Someone said something about some school having all the issues worked out... Really? I doubt it.. Did they practice bus evacuations while the bus was laying on its side or when the bus was on fire. Does anyone think that a bus driver can really enforce this? People who are in favor of this should really be a bus driver and see what it is like to drive 55mph down a road, watch traffic, watch 50 kids, watch mirrors, watch for animals, and try to keep some sort of order because these kids know you can not see what they are up to. You should not make judgments about issues like this until you know what it is like on both sides of the fence! In a perfect world the kids would sit down, put their belts on, be nice, and obey all the rules. I don't look for that to happen any day soon.

Amy Noggle    |    Oct 27, 2010 06:38 AM

One district's experience with seat belts (Scan down right column to, "Seat Belts on School Buses - One District's Experience": http://www.youtube.com/user/2safeschools

jkraemer    |    Oct 26, 2010 09:24 PM

Continued Page 2 - Phasing belts in at new production purchase is the way to go, and inexpensive lap belts continue to be the most popular restraint on school buses where not mandated 3-pts. Concerning the school buses liability risk assessments will eventually do the work fighting over belts could not. Industry and government can then argue over whom gets the credit for the move to make the school buses safer with seat belt installation mandate. A sugnificant influence that achieved seat belts installed in the UK is Pat Harris, Director of BUSK: www.busk-uk.com In New Jersey Al Yeager was involved in their state's assessment of belts and has most of the data going back to the seventies: Alyeager@aol.com A large Nationwide effort to mandate belts on the nation's school buses is directed by Steve Langford, the National Coalition for School Bus Safety: www.ncsbs.org And there are these organizations that favor seat belts on the school buses with plenty of research and studies to back their endorsements: The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, Center for Auto Safety, American College of Preventative Medicine, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM), American Assoc. Oral, Maxillofacial Surg. (AAOMS). Also the National PTA and many more interested associations endorse the installation of seat belts on the big school buses. But in the end when a national mandate becomes reality it will likely be the liability issues in the courts that will get it done. Over 700 school districts in 'not mandated' states and growing fast already have moved ahead with installation on their school buses. These districts have somehow solved all the arguments concerning seat belts on the school buses, including cost, evacuation issues and on and on. Meanwhile, the only real option to savings on school buses long-tern and not equipped with seat belts is never crash the bus. One district's experience wit

jkraemer    |    Oct 26, 2010 09:22 PM

Yes, a new study to promote an old argument: "Not cost effective." Wouldn't save enough lives and all that rubbish. Not surprised myself, not in the least. Do any remember the signal 30 student driving safety movie? Not a single vehicle had belts. Here's another blast from the deep past long forgotten. In the 1950's General Motors declined to offer belts in their automobiles even as optional equipment. General Motors' "safety engineer," concluded, "seat belts are not essential for safe driving." Also GM's styling vice-president was not impressed with seat belts, "This just encourages the nuts,” and coined the term, "the seat-belt crazeu." ~ PBS/NOVA The Alabama Governor's Study Group is a study that presents no surprises that I can find. All the data to support use was already available from New York & New Jersey studies decades ago and many other science and research results long before this state study. So why another study? This study is mostly useful to provide the industry and districts some justification to delay belts until deaths settlements become so high they force installation. As long as the industry can distract with not enough deaths to justify installation they will prevail with exaggerated low numbers in and outside the school buses and further distract away to some other remedy not relevant to saving lives and other benefits with use of belts installed. The industry has promoted this study's outcome successfully for decades, so what is new in the Alabama study? The one fleet life cycle number reported looks huge in the Alabama study: -$104 million and -$125 million. "…school bus seat belts are not as cost-effective as other types of safety treatments," is a ridiculous statement that accepts killing some kids for the sake of a few dollars per child over the life a school bus Phasing belts in at new production purchase is the way to go, and inexpensive lap belts continue to be the most popular restraint on school buses wher

jkraemer    |    Oct 26, 2010 09:16 PM

Finally a study, not by reporters, but by observers. However, not addressed, and my biggest concern. If a bus is on fire, the added time to evacuate the bus would lead to lost lives, including the driver. I know of no driver that would leave a child on a burning bus, and thet burn FAST.

Rev Jay    |    Oct 26, 2010 03:45 PM

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