School buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury. According to NHTSA, on average six student passengers die in school bus crashes each year, compared to approximately 2,000 children who are killed in motor vehicle crashes annually. Buses are designed to protect passengers through “compartmentalization,” which includes closely spaced seats and high, energy-absorbing seat backs.
Eight states - Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas - have laws requiring the installation of seat belts on school buses. Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas’ laws, however, are subject to appropriations or approval or denial by local jurisdictions.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of school buses transport more than 25 million children to and from school, according to the American School Bus Council. That number represents about 50 percent of the K-12 population. School buses travel approximately 5.7 billion miles annually and are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury. In fact, school buses are the safest mode of transportation for children to get to and from school. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on average only six student passengers die in school bus crashes each year, compared to approximately 2,000 children who are killed in motor vehicle crashes annually.
School buses are equipped with more safety equipment and must adhere to stricter standards than any other vehicle on the road. Buses are designed to protect passengers through “compartmentalization,” which includes closely spaced seats and high, energy-absorbing seat backs. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Academy of Sciences confirmed the effectiveness of this design in studies of frontal and rear impacts. Concerns have been raised, however, about the effectiveness of compartmentalization in side-impact crashes. The NTSB concluded that “current compartmentalization is incomplete in that it does not protect school bus passengers during lateral impacts with vehicles of large mass and in rollovers, because in such accidents, passengers do not always remain completely within the seating compartment.” For that reason, some safety advocates have argued that seat belts are necessary on school buses.
In Alabama, the Governor’s Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts and the state Department of Education requested a pilot program to be conducted by the University of Alabama. The Legislature allocated $1.4 million and 12 buses with seat belts were purchased for 10 local school districts. The results of the program, published in a study in October 2010, concluded that seat belts would make school buses safer, but also found that the costs of implementing a program would be greater than the benefits.
Some school districts have reported improved student behavior on school buses with seat belts, with the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation of Columbus, Indiana, experiencing 90 percent to 95 percent fewer write-ups for misbehaving students.