Here at our Phoenix personal injury law office, we sometimes have cases involving school buses and city buses. Fortunately, we have not had a case in which a child has been seriously injured or killed in a bus accident. Perhaps this is because school buses are among the safest vehicles on the road. School buses weigh much more than the family vehicle, the passengers sit much higher than most other vehicles on the road, and designers have used a passive design technique called “compartmentalization.” School bus seats are placed tightly together and covered with a 4-inch-thick foam to form a protective bubble. The theory is that the child will fly against the seat in front of them, absorbing most of the impact on the foam backing.
Twenty-five million school children ride these buses every day, and in any calendar year, 6 children die from school bus collisions. Yet seat belts have never been a federal requirement on school buses. The thought has always been that it would be virtually impossible to ensure that every student had his/her seat belt fastened correctly, and the cost of retrofitting school buses with three-point seat belts would be prohibitive. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required professional motor coaches to have seat belts since 2013, they have never required the same for school buses, which is astounding because they have long maintained that seat belts are “the single most effective way” vehicle occupants can be protected.
On November 8, 2015, Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator of NHTSA, outlined a new policy that every child in every school bus must have a three-point seat belt. Although he issued a strong statement in favor of every school bus having seat belts, he stopped short of initiating a rule-making proposal that would mandate belt installation.
Rosekind states “Ultimately, whenever a safety issue becomes haggling over dollars and cents, safety suffers.” He firmly believes the emphasis should be on the safety of the children, not the expense, which could be as high as $7,000 to $10,000 per bus. At present, there are only six states: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas, that require seat belts on school buses, but the necessary funding has not always been appropriated. Dr. Mark Rosekind aims to change the emphasis on finances over children's safety by using “all the tools at our disposal to help achieve that goal . . .”