Children need to know seat belts are required

Few images are as terrifying to parents as the sight of a school-bus crash. Yet bus transportation is, according to statistics, by far the safest way to travel to school.

Between those extremes is the debate over seat belts in school buses, going on now in the Nevada Legislature with Assembly Bill 411, which would require them for any buses purchased after July 2007.

The only reason not to install them is cost - about $4,000 for shoulder harnesses added to a $90,000 bus. It's a significant amount and probably the reason most school districts don't have them. Most states don't require belts in school buses, nor does the federal government. But nothing is stopping school districts from installing seat belts voluntarily, other than their budgets.

We've read enough reports to discount the official line that seat belts don't do much to protect children in school buses. The "compartmentalized" approach - strong, high-backed seats - is only a halfway measure.

It does work well. On average, 20 students die a year in school bus accidents (only five while riding a bus; the rest from being run over either getting on or off the bus.) The National Association for Pupil Transportation says bus belts likely would save one life a year in the United States. Compare that with 43,000 auto deaths.

But the importance of seat belts on school buses goes beyond safety in a crash.

Laws require safety seats for young children in cars. They also require motorists and their passengers to buckle up. Millions are spent on campaigns to get people to use their seat belts. Parents preach it each time they pull out of the driveway. The Carson City Sheriff's Office is currently cracking down on seat-belt scofflaws.

Yet thousands of schoolchildren are packed onto buses each day with no seat belt in sight. It's OK, they are told, you don't need a seat belt on a bus.

Is it any wonder that by the time they're teenagers - at the highest risk in their lives to be killed in a car crash - so many think wearing a seat belt is optional?


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