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July 11, 2014  |   Comments (5)   |   Post a comment

Differing views on seat belt issue

If you’ve followed the debate on seat belts in school buses over the years, you won’t be surprised that my latest editorial on the topic drew dozens of responses.

by Frank Di Giacomo - Also by this author


In my April/May issue column (“Compartmentalization plus”), I argued that lap-shoulder belts can work together with compartmentalization to enhance the safety of school bus passengers.

If you’ve followed the industry’s debate on seat belts in school buses over the years, you won’t be surprised that my latest editorial on the topic drew dozens of responses from readers — many against my stance, some in favor.

I’ll share some highlights of those responses, but first I want to point out that I was remiss in my editorial in not noting the perspectives of two key industry groups: the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).

Those two associations collaborated on a response to recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations. In their letter, NAPT and NSTA call for “a science-based rather than emotion-driven or ‘directionally correct’ conclusion to the question of whether safety belts would definitively improve school bus passenger crash protection.”

The associations maintain that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should conduct comprehensive school bus crash testing to determine whether an upgrade to compartmentalization is needed. Also, NAPT and NSTA note discrepancies in statements that NHTSA and the NTSB have made on the topic of school bus seat belts.

“We cannot in good faith advise our members, or the public, on this issue until the significant and conflicting policy differences between the two federal safety agencies are resolved, hopefully with the added science of dynamic crash testing,” the associations say in their letter to NTSB, which is available at and

Now, here is a sampling of replies to my “Compartmentalization plus” editorial. Go to to read the full array of opinions and add your own.

• “It really is an issue of either compartmentalization or lap-shoulder belts. … Once you go the route of lap-shoulder, you are no longer able to rely on compartmentalization. The seats are more rigid and do not provide the same ‘cushioning’ benefit that non-seat belt seats provide.”

• “I have experienced a bus fuel leak evacuation with approximately 30 students. … I can only imagine the increased chaos we would have experienced if everyone was trying to get out of a lap-shoulder belt.”

• “I believe lap-shoulder belts could definitely enhance safety and, if used properly, could improve student behavior. I also believe the concerns … have merit. In an emergency, evacuating a bus would become much more difficult and time consuming. … [The] pros and cons need to be thoroughly studied.”

• “I am in full support of lap-shoulder belts. It does not matter if everyone uses them, but I’d like my grandsons to be able to make the choice of having the extra protection. That said, our industry is not killing kids inside the bus, but rather stats show kids and adults are more prone to being seriously injured or killed outside the bus. … Let’s concentrate on educating everyone about the dangers outside the bus.”

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Read more about: seat belts

I agree wholeheartedly that cameras in the Stop signs on Busses would vastly improve the safety of our students. However, if you put seat belts on the whole Bus, it would definitely require a Monitor on every Bus, because there is no way a Driver could enforce the use by 50+ students, and, from my experience, the Middle School age on up prefer to use them as weapons, smacking each other with the buckles. A few seat belts in the front seats for PK to 1st grade is fine, but the few little ones up front are controllable.

Carole Mathews    |    Oct 19, 2015 12:24 PM

Have any statistics been compiled indicating how many students are injured/killed due to smoke inhalation/bus fires? My thoughts are that as the statistics show, there is a far greater danger to students OUTSIDE of the bus than in. Therefor, I agree that the emphasis should be spent there. Radar, which is becoming more widely used in vehicles, could be a tool to help with this. One HUGE downside to the newer federal standards for compartmentalization have been the yet higher seat back height being required. This prevents drivers from seeing who's on the bus, what they are doing, and provides significant blind spots when approaching certain intersections. Have studies shown that this extra height is really that much of an improvement over the previous seat height requirements? Regulations should really be implemented with feedback from people in the industry, not from parents or other lay people who don't know the "ins and outs" of school transportation. Those of us involved in school transportation take children's safety very seriously, as we would with our own. There is much to consider when making policy or regulatory changes.

Bill Glucksman    |    Jul 28, 2014 10:33 AM

If they would equip the bus with a release button like a roller coaster I can see the belts helping but if a driver has to cut 72 belts I'm sure some of the students will not make it in a fire.

Diane Mayfield    |    Jul 15, 2014 02:00 PM

Robert LaDow    |    Jul 15, 2014 12:22 PM

Millions have been spent compartmentalizing school bus interiors, and many have seen the benefits through life events proving it works, adding to the record of safety for students on school buses. Yet, we continue to want to pile on costs associated with one more level of safety when the real tragedies happen outside the bus, not inside. A little common sense would seem to prevail here that often the cost far outweigh the returns. All life is valuable, but having to do away with school bus transportation seems to offer up far more hazards when they can no longer be afforded by the school systems and or tax levies. I vote to let common sense prevail and applaud an industry with a great track record of safety.

Robert LaDow    |    Jul 15, 2014 12:21 PM

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