Seatbelts for Ohio Buses?: Recent deadly accident prompts debate and task force

A recent deadly accident involving a school bus has reignited a conversation about seat belts on school buses. One student was killed and nearly two dozen others were injured in a school bus crash in Clark County, Ohio. Ohio state Rep. Cecil Thomas, D-North Avondale, said it’s time to resurrect proposed legislation to install seat belts on school buses.

According to the National Desk, The Ohio State Highway Patrol says a man driving a Honda Odyssey minivan crossed the center line just after 8:15 a.m. and struck the bus. As a result of the crash, the bus landed on its side. The bus driver suffered minor injuries. There were 53 people on the bus in all, including the driver.

In response to the crash, Ohio state representative Cecil Thomas said, “We got to re-energize the interest in trying to do whatever we can as a state to minimize the possibility of children, of a mother getting a phone call or mother in the past getting a phone call regarding a child that’s been killed in a bus accident.”

Benefits of Seatbelts

The debate about whether seatbelts should be required on buses is not a new one.  Only nine states require seat belts on school buses, and Ohio is not one of them. Many safety organizations, like the National Transportation Safety Board, and parent groups, like the Ohio and National PTA boards, recommend use of seat belts on school buses.

Matthew Palmer, researcher and program manager of school planning and transportation for the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University, believes that seat belts could have a significant impact on both safety and behavior.

“When we talk about the benefits of seat belts of course we think about the rollovers and crashes, but there may be a larger opportunity here that we haven’t thought of,” Palmer said. He revealed that his team’s research found seat belts kept student safer, improved their behavior both on the bus and in school, and assisted with school bus driver retention.

Are Seatbelts Necessary?

Many other safety experts believe, though, that seat belts on buses are not necessary. Samantha Wildow of Dayton Daily News reports that school buses are among the safest vehicles on the road, with less than 1% of all traffic fatalities involving children on school transportation vehicles, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash data.

Fatalities involving school bus occupants are incredibly rare and the design of school buses increase the safety of the occupants. According to a report by NBC Philadelphia, school buses are so big and heavy, the impact from a crash is distributed differently than it would be in a car, light truck or van, meaning that people in a school bus “experience much less crash force,” according to the NHTSA.

The compartmentalization design provides a “protective envelope” around students by placing strong, high energy-absorbing, padded seats close together, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Students are protected within the seating compartment much like eggs in a carton,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The cost of seat belts is also another important consideration. Newer buses can cost anywhere between $80,000 and $120,000 a piece, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Adding seat belts could cost between $7,000 and $10,000 per bus, and retrofitting older buses “costs even more,” according to the NCSL.

The NCSL also notes that it has questions about seatbelts in the event of a bus evacuation or submersion. Would children be able to unfastened their seatbelts and exit the bus quickly?

The NCSL also pointed out a New Hampshire report that concluded there was “insufficient data to decide if requiring seat belts to be worn on school buses would result in a net decrease in deaths and injuries.”

Taskforce Will Investigate

The Dayton Daily news reports that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday the state is setting up a task force to look at school bus safety and other issues. No timeline has been set, but he said “we need to look at what the data says, we need to look at what other states have done.”


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