We have to buckle up when we get in our cars, but children in Pennsylvania don’t have to wear seat belts on school buses.
Each day more than 1,400 students board school buses at Southern Columbia Area School District near Catawissa. According to district officials, each bus has over 50 students, and there are 40 buses and vans that drive the kids to and from school.
With the large amount of kids and buses, how do parents know their children are safe? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are the safest form of transportation.
Since 2000, just over 1,300 people died in crashes involving school transportation. Only 107, or 8 percent, were riding a school bus.
“The seats are compartmentalized so if a child is sitting properly in a seat, if there would be impact they’d hit the front of the seat, which is cushioned and designed with a framing to keep them safe,” said Pam Pheasant, Transportation Supervisor at Southern Columbia Area School District.
School buses in Pennsylvania are not required to have seat belts. In fact, according to a national pupil transportation service, only six states are. While they are required to be installed on buses in New York and New Jersey, children are not required to wear them. It costs between $6,000 and $10,000 per bus to install seat belts.
Bus driver Sue Welkom said they are better off without them.
“You would not know if they had the belts buckled. Whose responsibility would that be? If they have them buckled and if they stay buckled,” asked Welkom.
Pam Pheasant thinks the bad outweighs the good.
“They can use them as weapons. In the event of an accident, who is going to get them out of their seat belts,” asked Pheasant.
April Buckles has a five-year-old son. She said she can see the argument both ways.
“The seat belts would keep the kids safe, but if there was an accident they’d be stuck where they were,” said Buckles.
Pennsylvania law has required seat belts in cars, trucks and vans since 1968. Sergeant Roger Van Loan of the Bloomsburg Police Department said seat belts on buses would be hard to enforce.
“How’s that driver going to be held responsible if one of them decides to take the belt off? Is he going to be concentrating more on dealing with that than the safety of the bus and driving the bus?” asked Sgt. Roger Van Loan of the Bloomsburg Police Department.
From a medical standpoint, Dr. Robert Strony has been at Geisinger Medical Center for eight years, and has not seen any school bus-related injuries.
“There are a few states that do mandate seat belts. There is not a lot of evidence to show if they provide a benefit in bus accidents,” said Dr. Strony.
According to the NHTSA, school buses are built so the body of the bus is protected. Starting last year, all of the new manufactured buses are required to have these higher seat backs as a safety precaution.
“It’s visibly hard to see the children now with the higher seats, but it’s safer for the children. In my eyes, safety is first,” said Welkom.
The other district officials agree, keeping the children safe is the main goal.