Seat Belts Bring Safety to School Buses

October 12, 2006--Posted at 5:55 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR--Buckle up for safety... It's a common cliché we have heard since we were young. However, students are receiving mixed messages about seatbelt use when we don't install them on the vehicles they travel to and from school in everyday.

5th grade student Stewart Bridger always does the same thing every time he gets in a car.

"Buckle my seat belt," said Bridger proudly.

Both Stewart and 6th grader Ali Thomas ride the bus to school. While they have never really considered the safety of their bus, they both knew something was missing.

"I think they are pretty safe, but they need to have seat belts in them," said Ali Thomas.

Without being prompted, these students immediately could tell you that school buses lack this major feature. However, do they know why buses don't have seat belts?

"Well they should, but I don't know why," said Thomas.

"Uhhh, I don't really know," said Bridger.

The reason is simple.  Schools aren't required to have seat belts on board. With a cost of $20,000 a bus, schools aren't in a rush to install them either. However, this small feature could have made a huge difference in the most recent bus accidents.

"In case of a rollover or side impact, a three way harness would be the only way to go," said Nettleton School District Transportation Director Rickey Glenn.

The Nettleton bus seats are already fitted with the slots for lap belts. A seat belt that isn't nearly as safe as the shoulder harnesses.

"The lap belts may have given them some abdominal injuries, but it would have been better than nothing at all," said Glenn.

Glenn has been doing his job for ten years. He has seen a real push for safety in the last three years and believes you will soon see seat belts in buses.

"The kindergarten class that started this year, probably will be over the shoulder seat belts on their buses when they graduate," said Glenn.

Another potential benefit to school bus seat belts is they would cut down on the number of driver distractions and allow them to fully focus on the road. According to the Nettleton District, the number one reason for bus referrals is walking in the aisles and standing while the bus in motion.

There is a downside to the bus seat belt. Once installed, it can cut down on the capacity of the bus as much as 33%. Meaning the schools would have to spend additional money to get all the students home.