A Pennsylvania newspaper survey spawns debate over school bus safety and reveals that most of the injuries sustained during school bus crashes could have been prevented by seat belts.
A survey administered by a local Pennsylvania newspaper to area school districts regarding injuries associated with school bus accidents since 2000 shows a preventable connection.
The Morning Call received data from around thirty-six local districts involving “intermediate” school bus injuries. The results came back that over 200 students who sustained injuries as passengers on a school bus might have prevented their injuries by wearing a seat belt, as most injuries were minor bumps caused from students being thrown forward.
In relation to the data obtained, only a portion of the local districts responded, leaving the numbers somewhat challenged due to a lack of participation from districts who refused to provide information on bus related accidents unless they were served a subpoena. Other districts simply did not have that kind of information available.
Currently, there is no federal law that requires school buses to incorporate seat belts onto the 70 plus passenger sized transporters, although as part of an effort to update a 31-year-old regulation governing the school bus transportation system, lap/shoulder harnesses are currently in the works for being required on the van-sized buses.
While some states like New Jersey, New York and California have mandated their usage, it is still optional for states to add safety restraints to the 70-passenger tanks.
The debate over whether or not safety restraints should be implemented into school buses is a long running fight between advocates for safety and government agencies where pro-mandates of the seat belts show proven safety and survival rates associated with their appropriate use while opponents cite multiple reasons.
On average, a school bus transports around 70 students and costs roughly $75,000 USD. To add seat belts to a bus would reduce the number of students it could transport down to 55 and would cost around $8,000 USD, according to the news article.
Essentially, a district would have to either transport fewer students or add more buses to its fleet while coughing up additional funds to incorporate the safety harnesses onto each transporter.
Other anti-seat belt supporters believe that proper parenting would correct the problem by ensuring that parents taught children to sit better.
The current safety methodology, termed compartmentalization, was brought about in the seventies, where bus seats were pushed close together, and seat backs were made higher than normal with extra padding.
Advocates of implementing the device, such as Dr. Alan Ross, President of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety believe that mandatory implementation of the “basic appliance” and “injury saver” on the smaller buses is an applaudable step towards children’s safety, but that leaving it as an option on the bigger buses is still not good enough.
Even the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Jay Berkelhamer, feel the safety measures on the school buses are outdated, even referring to their advances as “dinosaurs”. Berkelhamer believes that school districts should fork out the funds for the safety of the children.
Although study results vary from state to state, one consistent fact is that very few children are fatally injured on school buses relative to the number of students that are on a bus when compared to those who die in auto accidents annual. In fact, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, fewer than 10 percent of bus riders sustain injuries during accidents involving school buses.
In auto accidents involving a school bus, drivers and passengers in the other vehicle are most likely the ones to sustain injury and are around 60 percent of all fatalities in school bus fatalities in Wisconsin. It is also shown that fault is often attributed to the other vehicle, and not school buses in most cases involving a school bus and another vehicle.
Pedestrians, usually children being struck during unloading and loading of buses, account for the next highest injury and fatality rates.
A fact sheet provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that 66 student deaths occurred as occupants on ALL school transportation vehicles, including those with restraints and without, between 1996 and 2006.
According to the Morning Call survey, one school bus driver and fifty-five pedestrians and riders in other vehicles have died since 2000, but no students on buses. That says a lot about the local Pennsylvania area.
School bus transportation is by far one of the safest methods of transportation, and the national track record associated with the daily transport of children proves just how safe it is. Driver training and bus construction both contribute.
With over 400,000 fatal accidents in the United States between 1996 and 2006, .33 percent were school transportation related, including ALL school vehicles.
With both sides of the argument making its way across state lines, even spawning creation of a bill that would require mandatory reporting of all school bus related injuries, school bus safety is obviously not an issue to be taken lightly.
If the implementation of seat belts could save even one child from serious injury or death, then the value added from that savings of life should be taken into consideration.