I’ve dedicated this column on more than one occasion to making a case for lap-shoulder belts on school buses, and I’ve heard back from readers who have strong opinions on both sides of the fence.

Whether school buses should have seat belts for passengers is certainly a contentious issue, and it has been for decades. But I’ve never heard anyone argue that school bus drivers don’t need seat belts.

It seems like a no-brainer: A school bus driver needs to be buckled in so he doesn’t get thrown out of his seat. But there are some drivers out there who seem to be ignoring that clear message.

From time to time, we’ll come across a media report of a school bus crash in which the driver was unbelted and thus ejected from the vehicle. Then there’s the recently released National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the fatal Huntsville, Ala., school bus crash.

The report confirmed that the bus driver was not wearing his seat belt, although it didn’t indicate whether the accident could have been prevented if he had been wearing it. We checked in with several pupil transportation officials, and they had some strong words on the matter.

Reminders and penalties

Charlie Hood, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the state director in Florida, said that “the few school bus operators who don’t wear their belts, or don’t wear them properly, must be reminded that in a school bus environment in particular, the safety belt not only helps prevent crash injuries, it helps prevent crashes in the first place by keeping drivers in their seats and in control of the bus.”

Hood noted that after a crash, the driver’s condition is critical to his or her ability to help with evacuations and injured students.

Alabama state pupil transportation director Joe Lightsey said that the Huntsville crash points out “the continuing need for close monitoring of drivers to ensure that their seat belts are buckled, and that severe penalties should be imposed on those who fail to comply.”

Lightsey said that since 2008, all new school buses in Alabama have been required to have audible and visual warnings for drivers if their seat belts are not buckled.

Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, also pointed to the seat belt component of the NTSB report.

“Safety belt use by school bus drivers is critical to maintaining control of the bus under all operating conditions,” Martin said.

Excuses, excuses

The Kansas Department of Transportation has a great resource on its Website called “Reasons Why I Do Not Wear My Safety Belt” (go to www.ksdot.org and do a search for that title), which lists common excuses and then dismantles them.

Perhaps one of the most effective replies is to the complaint that seat belts are uncomfortable: “Safety belts are a lot more comfortable than a hospital bed.”