Colorado State Law requires the use of seat belts in motor vehicles. It seems a grave oversight that schools are not required to follow that law our children need to buckle up on school busses.
Saturday morning's accident involving the Moffat County swim team traveling by bus to a swim meet Durango has brought this seat belt issue, that has only been addressed on the national front, to our backyard.
Perhaps now that one of our own school busses, holding 25 teens and two adults from our community, has been involved in an accident, state and local governments will understand the need to install seat belts on school busses.
Children are urged by parents, law enforcement officers and advertising campaigns to buckle up, yet, starting each August, they board a 16,000 pound vehicle and ride it twice a day without being given the option of wearing a seat belt.
Installing seat belts on school busses would be a great chance to educate children about the importance of wearing seat belts, and get them in the habit of buckling up early on.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, students who rode safety belt-equipped buses said their frequency of car belt use increased after the bus belt program began, even though they had already been regular or occasional car belt users. Overall, students who rode belt-equipped buses reported using car belts somewhat more frequently than students who did not ride belt-equipped buses. Elementary students reported 90 to 100 percent usage rates for car belts; junior high students, 75 to 80 percent and high school students, all of whom lived in states having mandatory use laws, reported 80 to 100 percent use of car belts. In addition, administrators, transportation directors, and drivers reported improved child behavior on buses equipped with belts. There was little or no standing or roaming in the aisles, few instances of putting hands or heads out of windows, and fewer fights or rowdy behavior.
Any driver who allows a child to ride in a car without a seat belt is subject to a $50 fine. Yet, driving with 30 to 60 unbelted children in the backseat is not against the law. And, if you remember from your own school days, students don't stay in their seats very well. They switch seats while the bus is moving, lean over the seat in front of them to talk to a friend or lie down in the seat to read or catch a nap all more dangerous in the openness of a school bus than in the confines of a car or truck.
Students ejected from the seat of a school bus have a lot farther to fly than those in any other type of vehicle, not to mention what happens to loose books, instruments and other school supplies. In a rear-end, lateral or rollover collision, children become human missiles as they are thrown from their seats, into each other or into aisles where they can block quick evacuation.
According to the National Safety Council, there were at least 62,000 pupil injuries in reported school bus accidents from 1991 to 1996. There were at least 59 passenger fatalities.
Research done by CNN shows that school bus passenger injuries rose by 94 percent between 1985 and 1996 nationally.
Research shows that high-back padded seats and seat belts together provide greater safety for school bus passengers in an accident. Seat belts are most effective in side impact and roll over accidents where high back seats alone are least effective in preventing injuries. Seat belts and high-back seats work together to increase passenger safety.
Some opponents argue that wearing seat belts reduces evacuation time. Studies have shown that the use of seat belts does not significantly increase evacuation time. Seat belt buckle design, coupled with education on easy use of a cutting tool, helps ensure that no child of school age will be trapped in a bus by their seat belt. Seat belts will hold students in their seats during an accident. This means they will be more able to evacuate the bus quickly.
Seat belts on school buses have been endorsed by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, American College of Preventative Medicine, Physicians for Automotive Safety,and Center for Auto Safety all professionals in the field of safety. But, they have not been approved by lawmakers.
The state of Florida legislated purchase and usage of seat belts in 1999. The states of New York and New Jersey require all new school busses to be equipped with seat belts. But, those are the only three states in the United States to put children's safety above all arguments, including cost.
According to the National Counsel for School Bus Safety, seat belts would cost most districts about $1.50 a child. More than 200 school districts across the nation have adopted seat belts as an added safety feature and report usage rates from 80 to 100 percent.
Let's challenge our school district to go that extra mile in the area of bus safety. The added protection is surely worth the added expense. Let's not wait for another tragedy to strike a bus full of Moffat County students. Don't let the fact that there were few injuries for the swim team lull you into complacency and the belief that there won't be a next time especially in Northwest Colorado where roads can be treacherous.
If an adult decides not to wear a seat belt, that is their choice, their gamble, their chance. We cannot gamble with the lives of children and we cannot leave them up to chance.
Everyone, including schools, has the duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves especially children.