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November 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Putting up a fight

by Thomas McMahon, Executive Editor


One thing is clear about pupil transportation professionals: They want what’s best for the kids. If they are not fully convinced that equipping school buses with seat belts will make them safer, they’re going to resist that change.

But it’s not for fear of change itself. Many in the industry see a potential reduction in passenger capacity, which would force some students to use less-safe forms of transportation to and from school. That is, unless funding were provided to buy more buses and hire more drivers. And we all know how hard extra funding is to come by in the public education realm these days.

Others envision evacuation scenarios — a bus going into a lake or catching on fire, for example — in which children would struggle to get out of their seat belts while the driver scrambled to help them out as quickly as possible.

A healthy debate
Whether you agree with those arguments, you have to respect their purveyors for really thinking through the issue. There is a vast amount of pressure from parents, physicians and members of the media to do what seems like a “no-brainer” to them: put seat belts on school buses.

Of course, these people also want what’s best for the kids, and those on the other side of the fence have to acknowledge that. We all share the same goal: providing the safest possible ride for students. Unfortunately, there isn’t one clear path to reaching that goal.

But, again, the fact that we’re deliberating on the issue is a positive sign. The strong turnout for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “seat belt summit” in July was encouraging, as was the flood of responses to the agency’s docket on the issue.

We printed a handful of those comments on pgs. 78 and 79 in this issue. NHTSA will use them in preparing to propose rulemaking aimed at improving school bus passenger protection. The agency’s deadline for comments has passed, but if you’d like to add to the discussion, feel free to e-mail us your thoughts.

Emotional ties
I’m not going to go into too much detail about my own opinion on the matter, but I will say this: The emotional element cannot be denied.

My wife and I had our first child earlier this year, and I don’t like to imagine him not being restrained in any type of vehicle — even the safest one on the road. Of course, he’s only 9 months old now, but I don’t think I’ll feel any differently when he’s 9 years old.

Since I became an editor for SCHOOL BUS FLEET about five years ago, I’ve become “enlightened” on just how safe school buses are. Statistics clearly show that they are the safest way for students to get to and from school. With that knowledge, I’ll feel comfortable handing my little guy over to a professional driver on a well-maintained yellow bus.

But if I didn’t have that knowledge, I wonder whether I would be willing to make this leap of faith. Someone would have to try to convince me that our seat belt-equipped station wagon, with me or my wife at the wheel, wasn’t the safest approach. And I’d surely put up a fight.

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