Indiana News

National Group Says All School Buses Should Have Seat Belts

Unclear whether safety belt would have saved a five-year-old killed in Monday crash

3/13/2012

Most school buses don't have seat belts for the kids they transport, but a group led by a doctor is trying to change that.

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"I don't want to take books away from the kids, but on the other hand, I want to make sure the kids get to school in one piece," says Dr. Alan Ross, president of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety.

It isn't clear that seat belts would have saved the life of Donasty Smith, 5, who was killed along with a bus driver Monday morning when the bus headed to Lighthouse Charter School crashed into the pillar of a railroad overpass on South Emerson Avenue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says school buses are among the safest forms of travel, with an average of 19 fatalities every year, and says seat belts would not make school buses measureably safer. Dr. Ross says he doesn't see how that can be true. "Just because you put padding on the seat backs and seat fronts doesn't mean you protect the occupant. Many crashes, kids bounce off the walls and off the ceilings and off each other," Ross says.

Most school systems say tight budgets won't allow them to retrofit school buses with seat belts or purchase new buses with them. Ross says adding safety belts to a new bus adds roughly $3,000 to its cost, which he considers relatively cheap. "The fact that you amortize that over the 15-year life of the bus," Ross says, "the bus is costing $75,000 and this enhancement is only $3,000, I don't know of many parents who wouldn't pay pennies a day to secure the safety of their children."

Ross also says it is unfair to hold parents who drive their kids to one standard and school buses to another. "We've gotten to the point that it's illegal to transport a child in your car without buckling them in appropriately. There is horrible hypocrisy, and the hypocrisy is in the political nature of these decisions."

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