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NHTSA wants seat belts on school buses

November 28, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

NHTSA administrator announces: ‘ [E]very child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt’

School bus seat belts

Children are our most precious “cargo” when we’re out on the roadways.

Nice to see the nation’s top traffic safety organization now agrees, and after years of debate and some controversy (stemming from a 2006 position paper on seat belts in school buses), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now announcing that our kids should have the same protection whether they’re in the family mini-van or on the school bus and headed off to class.

In a November 8, 2015, speech to the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Administrator Mark R. Rosekind, said children should be wearing seat belts while riding on school buses.

Specifically, he said:

  • “The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt. NHTSA will seek to use all the tools at our disposal to help achieve that goal, and today I want to launch a nationwide effort to get us there.”
  • “Without seat belts on buses, there is a gaping, obvious hole in our safety measures that sparks questions all of us have to answer. With seat belts, we can build momentum for student pedestrian safety, enhanced enforcement, and more.”
  • “School buses should have seat belts. Period. It should be utterly uncontroversial – there is no question that seat belts offer improved safety. Seat belts will save the lives of children who we might otherwise lose in crashes. Seat belts provide the safety those kids deserve.”
  • “Because every child on a bus seat without a seat belt means more risk of serious injury to precious cargo.”
  • “[O]ur goal is a three-point belt for every child on every bus.”

I couldn’t agree more with NHTSA Administrator Rosekind.

During my own career as an attorney helping people injured in Michigan auto accidents, I’ve seen (and litigated) many school bus accidents. It’s time for all of us to understand and appreciate the tragedies that can result from young children as vehicle occupants in school buses not being properly seat-belted.

This is a great – and, frankly, long-overdue – move by NHTSA.

How NHTSA’s announcement could help House Bill 4020

As pleased as I am as an injury attorney with NHTSA’s announcement, Rep. Robert L. Kosowski (D-Westland, MI) must be even more pleased.  In January 2015, Rep. Kosowski introduced House Bill 4020, which proposed the following regarding seat belts in school buses:

“A school bus purchased by a school on or after the effective date of the amendatory act that added this section shall be equipped with 1 safety belt for each pupil being transported by the school bus.”

To learn more about HB 4020, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “Should school buses have seat belts?”

Hopefully, NHTSA’s announcement will get a fire going under Michigan lawmakers: No action has been taken on Kosowski’s HB 4020 since it was assigned to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on January 15, 2015.

Change of position

NHTSA Administrator Rosekind acknowledged this marked a change in the association’s position on the need for seat belts on school buses:

“Is this a change in position? Yes.”

In a 2006 paper, NHTSA said the following in response to the question, “Why don’t we have [seat belts] on school buses?”:

“School bus crash data show that compartmentalization has been effective at protecting school bus passengers. NHTSA’s 2002 Report to Congress found that the addition of lap belts did not improve occupant protection for the severe frontal impacts that were studied for that report.”

To learn more, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “School bus safety questions following crash tests with seat belts.”

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