How safe are school buses?
One person died and more than two dozen were hurt when a school bus collided with a truck in Pennsylvania on March 14, 2012.
March 20th, 2012
06:35 AM ET

How safe are school buses?

by Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) It’s a question many Americans have in light of several high-profile bus wrecks from Missouri to Pennsylvania.  And if you ask the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) how safe school buses are, you’ll find its answer is a superlative: School buses are the safest method for transporting students to and from school.

In fact, the NHTSA says that traveling by school bus is seven times safer than traveling by car or truck.

For perspective, while more than 30,000 people are killed in traffic crashes every year, six school-age children die as passengers in school buses annually.  Of course, the NHTSA – and all of us – want the numbers to be zero.  But it shows you how school bus crash fatalities are relatively rare when compared to traffic fatalities as a whole.

Still, questions remain about why there aren’t safety belts on school buses.  They’ve been required on passenger cars since 1968, but the government doesn’t feel they’re needed on school buses for several reasons.

For one thing, large buses behave differently in crashes than the cars we drive.  What passengers feel during a school bus accident is likely to be significantly less forceful than they do during a car accident.  The government also points to compartmentalization as an effective safety measure:  The high-backed, cushioned seats we used to ride in continue to protect passengers in frontal crashes.

But seat belt advocates say current safety measures are not enough.  The National Coalition for School Bus Safety says the study that the government cites for its data is dated and inadequate.  For one thing, seven out of 10 “real world” accidents are not frontal, according to the coalition.  And when it comes to side-impact and rollover accidents, the NCSBS says compartmentalization is less effective – and that seat belts are essential to saving lives.

Like many school-related issues, the federal government allows states and districts to set the rules when it comes to seat belts on school buses.  One downside is cost:  Buses with built-in seat belts are more expensive.  And at a time when school systems are looking for ways to cut costs – in some cases, cutting some school bus routes themselves – it’s not likely you’ll see an uptick in the number of buses with seat belts.


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  1. roller coaster free games

    Thank you for every other informative site. Where else may just I get that kind of information written in such an ideal manner? I have a project that I am just now running on, and I have been at the glance out for such information.

    April 2, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  2. jkraemer

    Quoting Old Data: "School buses are the safest method for transporting students to and from school."

    Some school buses may be the safest method to and from school, some are not. It depends. Overall, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an agency that investigates school bus crashes, determined traveling to school by school bus is second only to commercial bus travel in passenger safety. School buses are now in second place, not first.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  3. JD

    I drive right past my kids' school every morning (at the time that they would be dropped off for school) as I am on my way to work. However, I make sure they get on the bus before I leave home. That's how much I appreciate the safety of the school bus. Earlier this year, a car hit one of our buses head on and the driver of the car was killed instantly. It was a horrific crash, but all of the children were safe because the bus did its job. Love the bus!

    March 23, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  4. Kevin

    Been driving a school bus for 16 years. Seatbelts are not needed on buses. They would be more dangerous when it comes to a speedy evac if necessary. If children would sit properly as they are told to sit facing forward and on their bottoms they would be very safe. But they like to sit with their knees in the seats turned around or feet in asile sitting sideways. They are protected with the departemental setup to be safe.

    March 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  5. pat

    i worked building IC buses in Tulsa for some time and i can tell you they are junk and dangerous . one idiot that job was to torq down the brake bolt didnt do it at all and it took them 2 years to figure that out. one time a temp was backing up a bus and hit a lamp post at less than 1 mile a hour and it pushed the body forward on the frame 36 inches. i have seen frame rails that were so pitted and bent it takes 5 guys just to force them into the squareing machine. one time they got the wrong bolts to attach the sterring gear box and forced a metric onto a standard thread and if the impact was one pound to much it would snap the stud off. PLEASE look at the pics of all of these bus wrecks and you will see that MOST of them are IC brand.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  6. Sissy

    I rode a Headstart bus and buckled in the pre-schoolers. I monitered them and helped them off & on the bus. I was the only one who was not provided a seatbelt. If there was a serious accident, I probably would have been unable to assist the children. There were two seatbelt cutters near the driver to assist with a quick evacuation. We had an evacuation drill every month. It would be great if all parents were required to moniter the buses in turn or pay a non-working parent to take their place.

    March 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  7. dennissweezey

    school buses are as safe as long as the people that drive them are qualified/that does not mean someone jumps into a schhol bus who has not had all the proper traing and can pass the tests that are required with absolute interigty/alot of school bus companies will hire boddies because they are underpaid and lack good judgment/i drove a bus for ten years and can tell you that i have seen it all/most compaines do not abide by all the regulations/ther are required and mandatory training tha is involved/seat belts should be made mandatory on all buses nationwide

    March 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  8. Bus driver

    I'm a bus driver in a middle sized city in Germany, I drive a double long Mercedes bus that carries 120 passangers. Most cities here us the normal city buses to transport school children to and from school. There is no way I can control what goes on all the way in the back of the bus, seat belts would be a nightmare. The mechanics spend enough time replacing the seats that are torn and ripped out of their mounting by the school kids, some of them have even been set on fire. Seat belts, right, that's just what we need. What's needed is to install hidden cameras and catch the little darlings and make their parents pay for the destruction they cause, and ban them from using the bus.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  9. mary

    I would love seat belts on my school bus, but in reality I have 42 elementary children and I know they would hit and choke each other and wouldn't sit in them. If my bus caught on fire and I have to get up to 70 kids off the bus and I can tell you they will be screaming at the top of their lungs in a panic. now for the middle and high school they wouldn't sit in them anyway and probably cut them, jam them up so what is the point. I am the only adult on the bus with no camera or monitor and I have to watch the road so I don't get in an accident.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  10. larry5

    Children should be at least constrained as well as they are in a roller coaster ride. Hitting any solid object at highway speeds could get them seriously killed or fatally injured. If the EPA can demand that plants that generate electricity have to produce emission cleaner than ambient air we can at least make a school bus a bit safer. We need more government controls and rules because citizens working in the private sector are taking far too much money home in their pay checks. If the death toll rises high enough then politicians can rise up, make a speech and spend more of our money. We can only hope that this time it might be well spent.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  11. GJM

    What happens when you are in a severe accident and your bus rolls over a 60-70 little children are flying all over the place as you roll down a hill into a river? Will you be changing your "tune" then?

    March 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  12. James

    I also don't think we should have seat belts on school buses. I have been driving one for over 7 years and currently drive one that is equipped with seat belts. In a severe wreck when an evacuation is necessary, young children are not going to be able to get out of the seat belt on their own. I just see the belts causing more injury or death than not having them. People who don't know anything about school buses do not understand that it is not nearly the same as using the seat belt in their personal car. There are negatives to having them and not having them, you have to weigh out which decision is going to cause the most harm.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Wen

      While the rolling-the-hill-into-a-river scenario is a possibility, that happens much less often (5 out of 85 crashes involved turn-over) than kids getting killed walking to school or being driven to school by car. According to a report from the NHTSA, from 200 to 2009, 57 school kids were killed while ridding in a school bus. During the same time, 1081 school kids were killed going to school as pedestrians or riding in a car. Do the math. Even if seat belts would have saved those 65 lives (and its unclear that they would), it would be much more effective to get more kids riding school buses instead of walking or riding to school in a car. We could have saved 1081 lives by having them riding a bus instead of walking to or driven in a car.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  13. Jenny

    I don't think they should have seat belts. As a sub-driver in my childrens school district the question I ask is: If the bus had seatbelts and we need to quickly evacuate the bus which kids do you unbuckle first? Kids panic and when you have 60-70 students thats alot of children to unbuckle for one adult. You can't expect to have an older child risk their life to help unbuckle kids who are panicing.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:52 am |