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NTSB Report on Fatal Bus Accidents Re-Ignites Debate over Equipping School Buses with Seatbelts

September 03, 2013

Beginning with their initial trip home from the hospital following the birth of a child, most parents routinely secure their child in a special child safety restraint and require their kids to wear a seatbelt when riding in a motor vehicle.  Ironically, many kids never travel in a motor vehicle without a seatbelt until they climb aboard a school bus to head off for their first day of school.  Approximately 26 million children travel to school on buses, but only twenty percent of the 480,000 school buses in the U.S are equipped with seatbelts according to a recent AP article.

The decision not to equip school buses with seatbelts to keep kids safe in crashes is based on a study conducted in 2002 as well as simple economics.  A 2002 study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that lap belts did not significantly reduce the risk or severity of injury when buses were involved in head-on collisions.  Because the cost of a new school bus can range from between $75,000-$85,000 and the cost of installing seatbelts can range from $5,485-$7,346, those concerned about the cost have relied on this 2002 study to oppose requiring seatbelts in school buses. 

However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently issued its findings regarding two fatal school bus accidents that occurred last year which may provide an impetus to reconsider the value of installing seatbelts in school buses.  The earlier NHTSA study focused only on head-on impacts and lap belts while ignoring side-impact collisions and the value of shoulder restraints.  School bus passenger safety historically is based on the notion of “compartmentalization,” which involves the distance between the seats in buses and the height of the bench seats.  The conventional wisdom has been that compartmentalization provides sufficient protection especially in the type of head-on crashes involved in the 2002 study.

However, the recent NTSB study looked at two fatal bus accidents that involved side-impact collisions and bus rollovers.  The federal agency concluded that lap belts could significantly improve the safety of bus passengers in a collision where the bus tips or suffers impact to the side of the vehicle.  The study suggested that a fatality suffered in one of the bus crashes could have been avoided if the student had been wearing a lap and shoulder restraint.  According to the NTSB, lap and shoulder safety restraints reduce the severity of injury caused by upper body flailing that is common when only lap belts are worn.  While the NTSB acknowledged that school buses are much safer than other modes of transportation, it also concluded that kids involved in side impact and rollover bus accidents would be safer if wearing a lap belt and shoulder harness. 

The two school bus accidents that were studied happened to have occurred in two of the six states where buses are equipped with seatbelts.  Physicians used video footage from one of the collisions to study what happened to the kids’ bodies as the bus rolled to evaluate whether seatbelts would have minimized the resulting injuries.  The doctors reported that it was clear that the kids who suffered the most serious injuries were those who were not wearing a seatbelt.  Based on their frame by frame analysis of the video, the physicians also concluded that more kids would have suffered serious injury it they had not been wearing a seatbelt.

If your child is injured in a school bus accident or you are injured on a commuter bus, our Georgia motor vehicle accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to those throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast.  No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333).  You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

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