Six children were killed in a school bus accident in Chattanooga last November. Accidents like this draw into question whether seatbelts on school buses should be required by law. Before you start to lean either way in this debate, you should know that six is also the approximate total number of children to die each year in bus accidents to and from school. Comparatively, around 800 children die traveling to school by other means.
The three most important factors in ensuring student safety while in a school bus are driver performance, student behavior, and safety equipment. In this circumstance, the factor most flagrantly abused was poor driving.
The driver of the vehicle was driving 20 mph over the speed limit when he lost control of the vehicle; he has since been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. He had two previous accidents and three written complaints against him in the months preceding the crash. This raises questions regarding why his employer continued to let him drive the bus after being placed on notice of his unsafe driving.
A car would have stood no chance in the same scenario. Like most bus passenger fatalities, the deaths were due to the passengers’ seats being in direct line with the brutal force of the crash. It is unknown whether seat belts would have helped in this situation.
WHY AREN’T ALL BUSES REQUIRED TO HAVE SEATBELTS?
School buses are required by law to be built much tougher than ordinary vehicles. Without seatbelts, school buses are already 40 times safer than your ordinary car, according to The National Safety Council. For this reason, only six states have a seatbelt requirement. Could they, however, be even safer with seatbelts?
The short answer is yes…theoretically. There are problems, however.
ISSUES WITH REQUIRING SEATBELTS ON BUSES
- Would drivers would be held liable? In the case of the death or injury of a child who wore his seatbelt improperly, would the driver or school district be liable? It may be difficult to place the onus on a single driver accountable for ensuring all children on a bus are wearing their seatbelts properly, but the most likely alternative is…
- Children will be trusted to wear seatbelts correctly. It becomes dangerous if children wear their seatbelts the wrong way. Misuse of seatbelts has been shown to cause serious neck injuries. If all kids could wear their seatbelts correctly without enforcement, then this law would increase safety in buses and be a no-brainer. However, even then…
- It’s more complex than the safety of the children on the bus. The unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that the safety of our children is not the only factor to be considered. It is heartless, but most politicians agree that the economic cost to states and schools would be too great.
Implementing seatbelts on all school buses would cost an estimated minimum of $117 million per state, while the number of children saved would be next to nothing. To which the opposition would say, “tell that to the mother or father of the “next to nothing” child who could have been saved.”
No parent should have to bury her child because proper safety precautions were not taken. On the other hand, that $117 million would come out of the economic budget used for other educational purposes, cutting the number of buses and taking away the opportunity to attend a school for children who would have otherwise been able to. As many things, the issue of seat belts on school buses is not cut and dry, but in our opinion, children must be kept safe no matter what the monetary cost.
“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” – Proverbs 21:15
Nashville accident attorney Stanley A. Davis has been protecting the rights of injury survivors and the families of wrongful death victims in the Nashville area since 1997.