New Rule Adds Seatbelts to Small School Buses


Although it only applies to new buses weighing five tons or less, and won’t take effect until 2011, the government has decided that small school buses will now be required to have harness-style seatbelts. Under the new policy, larger buses will also be required to have higher seatbacks to keep larger or older students from being thrown over seats in the event of a bus accident. These new rules come after the death of four Alabama students, killed when their bus careened from an overpass on Nov. 20, 2006.

While smaller buses already have lap belts, there is no requirement for larger school buses. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the reason the government decided not to add them to larger buses is that the number of children that can squeeze into seats would be limited if they all had to wear seatbelts. Some school districts require up to three children to share the same seat.

The pilot project has mixed reviews. One bus driver said that, though his bus cannot start until all children have buckled their seatbelts, as soon as the bus is underway, he can hear the students unlatch their belts. One student worries that if the bus crashes into a pond and overturns, the younger children won’t be able to get their belts off. However, some students think the belts are a good idea and that they will keep students safe. A spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association objects to spending additional federal funds on the seatbelts. Because school buses are already a very safe mode of transportation, and the crash data doesn’t support an increase in safety on the buses, the spokesman said states shouldn’t be pressured on this issue.

There are 474,000 school buses that carry roughly 25 million children to and from school each year in this country. There are around six children killed each year in school bus accidents.