A recent story on the School Bus Fleet website about two school districts in Ohio receiving new school buses with seat belts sparked some comments from readers on seat belts being dangerous in the event of a fire.
Rudolph Breglia, a citizen advocate with the School Bus Safety Alliance, was interviewed for the story, and sent this letter in response to readers’ comments:
Based on research and experience, the federal agencies responsible for school bus safety and many medical and safety organizations have recommended lap-shoulder belts for all school buses. Several states, cities (including here in Beachwood, Ohio), and many school districts now require lap-shoulder belts in their new school buses. Since 1968, seat belts in cars have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, are a proven safety tool, and their absence in school buses exposes children to substantial risk.
A 10-year North Carolina study found that less than 0.1% of all school bus crashes involved fire emergencies. A much more critical need exists for lap-shoulder belt protection when typical school bus crashes occur. In a school bus crash, children without seat belts move like clothes in a dryer [Breglia shared this simulation video as an example] and are injured or disoriented — leaving little chance for an orderly evacuation — or killed.
Wearing a lap-shoulder belt during a crash allows children a much greater probability of being conscious, mobile, capable of escaping, understanding instructions, and able to help others. Children have the seat belt safety habit based on their years of experience of driving in their parent’s car. Lap-shoulder belts are designed to release quickly under all conditions, but a known source of significant delay is crowding at single person-wide exits and in exit rows.
Are the research statistics, authoritative recommendations, nationwide trends, and laws that favor the availability of lap-shoulder belts to protect our most precious cargo wrong? The introduction of lap-shoulder belts in school buses into any community to reduce risk will necessarily involve encouragement, communication, education, training, periodic drills, and the establishment of a school district “mandatory use” policy involving the school administration, parents, teachers, school bus drivers, and, most importantly, the children. It doesn’t need more misinformation about lap-shoulder belts causing delays during fires.