In New York State, all newly manufactured school buses are required to be equipped with seat belts but the state doesn’t mandate that they be used. The law leaves seat belt enforcement in the hands of each school district.
Many other states are now reviewing their seat belt laws and coming up with ways to keep children safe.
“New York is one of just six states that require seat belts on school buses,” Steve Barnes, a Buffalo bus accident attorney at Cellino & Barnes said. “However, many schools don’t require children to wear them – and the lap belts we usually see on school buses aren’t the safest product either.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is recommending that all school buses be equipped with three-point seat belts, which include a strap across the shoulder and chest, similar to those found in the driver’s seat in most vehicles.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the State of Maryland is currently drafting legislation that would require seat belts on school buses. However, it is not clear how the state would enforce the law.
“Most adults don’t have to think about putting on the seat belt in the car – it just happens because we’ve trained ourselves to buckle-up,” Barnes said. “Seat belts are worthless on school buses if children don’t wear them, so it’s important to educate and train them to wear a seat belt when they get on the bus.”
Cost is also an issue. State officials in Maryland believe installing seat belts on school buses would cost between $8,000 and $16,000 each – coming to about $6.4 million for the 8,000 buses operating in the Old Line State.
The need to improve school bus safety is clear: over the last decade, 327 school-age children have died in school transportation-related accidents, according to the NHTSA. More than 50 of those children were passengers on a school bus.
Most accidents occur outside the school bus – where there are no seat belts to protect children. But each year, school bus crashes send children to the hospital when a seat belt could have minimized their injuries.
Buffalo bus accident attorneys say almost every injury can be prevented with the proper education, training and safety features. But right now, those aren’t offered to children in most states.