Why don’t we put seat belts in school buses?

Seat belts are worth the cost; they save lives. Our children are worth the expense.

Seat belts are worth the cost; they save lives.

After reading the heartbreaking news story of the bus crash in Carroll County, I have one question: Why don’t we mandate seat belts on school buses?

The student who died was ejected from the bus, which could have been prevented had the teen been wearing a seat belt.You can read the argument for seat belts here at the National Coalition for School Bus Safety.

Among the organization’s points:

Seat Belts would cost most districts about $1.50 a child per year or less than a penny a day for this added protection.

Opponents ignore the fact that by not providing seat belts, a school district is demonstrating a form of NEGATIVE EDUCATION. This negative training carries over to the family car, leaving children defenseless against their number one killer, the automobile collision. Our teens are killed in drastic numbers each year because they haven’t learned the importance of wearing a seat belt.

Opponents state that “compartmentalization” (protection between high-back padded seats) provides sufficient protection, yet they ignore the effects of rear-end, lateral and rollover collisions. During a crash, children become human missiles as they are thrown from their seats, into one another or into aisles, blocking quick evacuation.

Opponents suggest that seat belts are more trouble then they’re worth and that children won’t wear them. Wearing seat belts twice a day, 180 days a year will make wearing seat belts a routine and not an ordeal. Over 200 school districts across the nation have adopted seat belts as an added safety feature and report usage rates from 80% to 100%. Districts must encourage, if not demand their usage and support must come from parents, administrators and school bus drivers.

I can offer one more reason to mandate seat belts here in Georgia. It is possible that James Rashawn Walker would be alive today if he were belted in that bus.

California and Texas – starting this year — are the only states requiring lap-shoulder belts on new school buses. New York, New Jersey and Florida require lap belts on new buses.

According to the AJC story:

James Rashawn Walker was among 14 students who were riding in a school bus from Temple High School to a nearby vocational school when the bus overturned.

More than a dozen were rushed to various hospitals, and James was the only fatality, police said.

At about 1:40 p.m. on Monday, the school bus in which he was riding went off the road, into a ditch and overturned.

The bus had no obvious mechanical problems, and the driver was not suspected of using alcohol or drugs, said Georgia State Patrol. Sgt. Justin Howard. He said the driver, Kenneth Ross Herringdine, 59, of Roopville, was a trainee with a valid commercial drivers license and that another experienced driver was on board teaching him.

It’s unclear why the bus went off the right side of the road, across a driveway, into a culvert and then into a ditch, Howard said. He said James was “partially ejected” from the bus, and was caught under it when it rolled.

If you are just reading this Tuesday morning, please take a look at some of the comments already up from late last night, especially those explaining that school systems routinely squeeze three students in bus seats meant for two; mandating seat belts would end that money-saving practice. (I say good riddance. It makes no sense for parents to carefully buckle their 6-year-olds and then turn them over to school buses where they bounce around like ping pong balls. )

And as for money, one poster raised this issue, which I think is worth pulling out and putting here for your comments:

V wrote:

I’ve got a good idea that no one has mentioned yet:


They are taxpayer-funded money sucks that clog up the streets. Get your own damn kids to school. Stop expecting the government to do everything for you.

(Maureen, a good topic for discussion would be the insane amount of money buses consume. To make it even more controversial, you could focus on the SPED buses, which consume an ENORMOUS amount of resources but only carry a few kids a piece.)

106 comments Add your comment


October 4th, 2010
10:02 pm

This is a heartbreaking story. I know all the reasons they say they don’t put seat belts on school buses, but they’ve never made sense to me, and I know that I always feel uncomfortable riding on a bus because you can’t buckle up.


October 4th, 2010
10:21 pm

Not only would seat belts be a safety enhancement, they would help eliminate many discipline issues.


October 4th, 2010
10:27 pm

Absolutely need seat belts on school buses. However, after experiencing years of bus drivers returning to our middle school after picking up after school ….because the students were behaving badly and endangering all occupants of the bus, I am wondering how the students could be forced to buckle them. A high school principal, who is very much in favor of seat belts, told me that if the buses had to wait for everyone to buckle up, they would probably not arrive at school until late afternoon. That would be a problem. Maybe they could make them automatic….as in sit down and the seat belt automatically buckles in. I think there are some cars that have that option.

Name One

October 4th, 2010
10:29 pm

There are many reasons why. Even though they are highly paid, many heads of school system transportation departments have no prior experience in transportation and safety, but were former school administrators (DeKalb’s had no experience in even that when he became their head of transportation). Board of Education members know little about school transportation and don’t care to learn more. Just as sad, they are unaware that school buses crank out particle emisions that get stuck in a child’s lungs. School buses are horrible for exhaust.
And school systems, with a few exception’s like Decatur, do little with Safe Routes to School, even though there is federal and state money, and do not work with counties and cities to improve intersections, crosswalks, sidewalks, bike trails and lanes, etc. around schools. Even though the counties in the metro area have good Boards of halth, they do not work with school systems for bus safety, bus pollution, Safe Routes, etc.
Parents have to demand their school transportation departments and Boards of Ed do much better than they are now.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by School Money, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: Why don’t we put seat belts in school buses? http://bit.ly/ayIvy8 [...]

Ole Guy

October 5th, 2010
1:12 am

Following a rather heavy rain several weeks ago, my wife was startled to find several tree branches in the yard. “We’ve got to have that tree removed before it comes crashing down on the house”, she implored. In mock agreement, I replied that, while we were at it, we should also remove the dozen or so trees that rested within treetop-length of the house. We could also implore our neighbors to remove trees, on their properties, which posed any possibility of damaging the ole casa.

Just exactly how far should we go in maximizing security and safety? Do we adopt a “money is no object” philosophy, particularly in an era when education, and education related expenditures (such as transportation) continue to take hit after hit after hit on the funding range?

It would be simply marvelous if we could live on the ideal plane, demanding only the best of the best in terms of…well…everything. After all, why stop at seat belts? Let’s go for shoulder harnesses, roll bars, and “titanium bath tubs”, just like on the Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft. Why heck fire, school buses could be constructed in the very same standard as the vehicles used by Soldiers in combat theaters. If a vehicle can withstand I.E.D.s, it can surely withstand anything the American motorist can dish out. After all, employing the time-honored mantra…IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN.

What about when the very same kids ride public trans? Just as the trains and buses have seats reserved for “the aged” (dats me!), there should also be seats, repleat with seat belts, harnesses, titanium cocoons, etc, reserved for riders under, say, high school age. After all, they’re children too.

While we’re at it, why stop with children? Everything I proposed above should apply to all on board. After all, who will care for the little ones, fully protected from the idiocy of mankind, if the adults, the caretakers of the wee little ones, are not recipients of the ideal plane as well.

Name One has suggested the potential harm from exhaust and particulates. An excellent means of combating this danger would be to pass out oxygen masks to all kids as they board. Following an elaborate education/training session (after all, it’s for the children) on pluging the mask into the on-board O2 system, the kids could breath purified air, thus ensuring healthy generations.

Must we go on, or can the fallacy of the very thought be somehow visualized? How bout we just pull our heads out of our sixes and drive responsibly?

Rob M.

October 5th, 2010
2:08 am

Maureen Downey – Did you read Ole Guy’s comment? Sounds like an editorial one might propose. Well said Ole Guy, thank you.


October 5th, 2010
6:19 am

Can’t put three students in a seat if you have seat belts.


October 5th, 2010
6:40 am

You can’t put three students in a seat if they’re older than 11 years old, but that doesn’t stop districts from making routes that regularly do that either. Too often we end up with students standing because there’s no room for them to sit.

Joy in Teaching

October 5th, 2010
7:04 am

I cried yesterday when I saw this on the news and I know they are going to have a rough few days at Temple High school.

That being said, there is no way in he** that a bus driver can actually safely drive the bus as well as monitor the little darlings on their seat belt usage. Also, there will always be one who will challenge the system, say, “You can’t make me buckle my seat belt” and generally cause a serious ruckus. If the bus can’t move until they are ALL buckled in, the bus will never be moved from the spot.

Anyone who thinks otherwise really are out of touch with reality when it comes to dealing with 40 plus kids in one spot.


October 5th, 2010
7:06 am

I like the idea of seat belts unless your kid is the one who is strapped in next to the bully. Then, the ability to get away when the trouble starts each day might be a positive.


October 5th, 2010
7:24 am

This bus crash and death are so sad. And I know seat belts sound like a good idea, but it would make getting out of a bus more difficult in a crash. Little ones would possibly need help unbuckling and/or the injured would need help. How often has a school bus rolled over? How often do school buses actually have life threatening accidents?

Also, the seat belts and metal buckles would be used to hit other passengers.

Cobb County Parent

October 5th, 2010
8:11 am

Three to a seat is the norm for elementary and middle school. Don’t know about high school. It is so crowded on the bus that my two eldest request car transport on the days they have to take in anything else in addition to their book bags. Seems to me that administrators are trying to save a couple bucks at the expense of students’ safety.


October 5th, 2010
8:22 am

We had seat belts in our school buses in New Jersey. and everyone used them. Maybe when Georgia becomes as sue-happy as NJ, we’ll get them here as well.

Like Thelma and D pointed out, overcrowding on buses is probably more of a problem. I’ve seen 3 and even 4 to a seat really intended for 2 or 3 kids.

V for Vendetta

October 5th, 2010
8:32 am

I’ve got a good idea that no one has mentioned yet:


They are taxpayer-funded money sucks that clog up the streets. Get your own damn kids to school. Stop expecting the government to do everything for you.

(Maureen, a good topic for discussion would be the insane amount of money buses consume. To make it even more controversial, you could focus on the SPED buses, which consume an ENORMOUS amount of resources but only carry a few kids a piece.)


October 5th, 2010
8:34 am

I’m no expert, but bus rollovers are much more rare than bus fires. Seems in the past I have always read that getting students off the bus in a hurry in case of a fire is tantamount.


October 5th, 2010
8:36 am

Oops. Meant “paramount.” More important to get them off the bus quickly in case of an accident resulting in a fire.


October 5th, 2010
8:45 am

This is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” topic. My heart goes out to the student that died yesterday in the accident, but you have to keep in mind, seatbelts on a school bus is a bad idea. As a former school bus driver, I would often get this question from parents. My view is if there is a crash, there is a fire (a bus is fully engulfed in flames within 2 minutes), and I have 48-72 students seatbelted in the bus, half of them are “flipping out”, which one would I chose to unbuckle and save first?Also a seatbelt could be used as a weapon, not only the buckle itself for striking, but the belt as a choking device. A bus driver has to concentrate on the road, not what the students are doing behind them. As for the school putting another adult on the bus, are you going to take 4 hours of your day (2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon) to just ride? If you say yes, you are the 1% that would.

Maureen Downey

October 5th, 2010
8:51 am

Folks, We know a lot more now than we did 20 years ago on crash safety and who survives and who dies. And this is the quick summation; People buckled in survive. People who aren’t die.
I don’t get why the safety requirements in cars don’t apply to buses. I think the reasons are purely financial, and this is one area where we ought to just spend the money to ensure that kids are as safe in buses as cars. I am going to check the stats on school bus fires, but I suspect that collisions where kids get bounced out of their seats are responsible for far more injuries.


October 5th, 2010
8:55 am

“Ole Guy” covered this one pretty thoroughly.


October 5th, 2010
8:57 am

V for Vendetta

October 5th, 2010
8:32 am

You must not live in the metro area. The last thing we need are more cars on the roads between 6 and 9am. I have to pass two schools in my immediate area and the car lines usually snake into the main roads. They currently cause huge backups and accidents occur frequently. Nah, I say let little Johnnie’s mommy say good by at the front door of their home.

All buses should have seat belts, but I doubt it would have saved the young mans life yesterday.


October 5th, 2010
8:59 am

Amen, Maureen.

[...] Should School Buses Have Seat Belts? (AJC blog) [...]


October 5th, 2010
9:13 am

My mother never let us(6 of us) ride a bus because “the government” would not mandate seat belts and I have not let my child ride one either and here we are 36 years later!! They have their noses in everything but ignore this need. Guess it is because it will cost money and save lives. What an example that we make our kids use a seat belt when with us and then the minute we have turn them over to government school buses, this great rule that has saved lives does not apply!


October 5th, 2010
9:24 am

Maureen: “It makes no sense for parents to carefully buckle their 6-year-olds and then turn them over to school buses where they bounce around like ping pong balls.” I absolutely agree- I went on field trips with my kids and watched them bounce like ping pong balls all over the seats until they weighed 100 pounds- It’s so stupid it defies words to continue to run school buses without seatbelts. I drive my kids to and from for one very simple reason…safety. And, Ole Guy,I couldn’t disagree with you more. If humans cannot learn from information…and there is more than enough out there to support keeping our children alive with the mere use of safety restraints in moving vehicles, then we might just as well crawl back into caves.
People who are unrestrained in auto accidents are ejected and killed. A crowded busload of kids is a tragedy waiting to happen. Only one child died yesterday a terrible, tragic loss, but it could have been so many more! How many children killed in bus accidents would it take before we are willing to spend money on what is basic common sense? 10, 20, a bus full? All it would take is one diabetic driver with an insulin reaction, or who has a stroke or heart attack, or a dumptruck whose brakes fail…then could we consider adding seatbelts?

Mike T.

October 5th, 2010
9:34 am

The reason there are no seat belts on a bus, is the fire factor. Let’s say in a different situation the bus was on fire, and the driver had to get all the kids off the bus.
Smaller kids would probably need assistance,the driver would be trampled by the older kids as he was trying to get the smaller kids unbuckled.In the event of an explosion it takes a bus three minutes to burn up.Imagine
also a bus stalling on a train track.


October 5th, 2010
9:36 am

Yes, they need seatbelts on buses, but most of the students wouldn’t wear them.

P.S. Why is the fact that this kid got bullied in high school taking such a central issue in the AJC reporting? If I meet my fate in a disaster that makes the largest newspaper in the South, I certainly hope that embarrasing details of my life are not dug up and exposed for the world to see. I can understand a couple of lines that maybe explained that he wasn’t your average acceptance-obsessed high school kid; however, to spend as much time and detail reporting on his bullying (and the reason for his bullying) in a freak accident such as this is grotesque. It is completely irrelevant whether he spoke in a funny accent. He deserves better than this disgraceful writing.


October 5th, 2010
9:50 am

A bus accident is not a freak accident. School bus accidents happen much more often than is comfortable. A fire on a school bus would be a freak accident. It makes no sense to plan for the freak accident(no seatbelts) while not planning for the accient more like to happen and in which the child would be more like to survive anyway.


October 5th, 2010
10:12 am

Maureen, since you have raised this issue and since buckling up is shown to drastically improve survival rates for auto crashes, perhaps then we can also build an argument to require the state to adequately fund school transportation.

Over the last several years, the transportation item of the state allotments to school systems has probably suffered the greatest (by percentage) in cuts. School systems can barely afford to purchase and maintain the buses already on the road. Our legislature has spoken loudly and clearly that the children of Georgia are not their highest priority by the way they have slashed schools’ budgets. Do we really think our state leaders will prioritize children’s safety on school buses?

I must agree with Pillsbury in criticizing AJC for its lack of tact in reporting about James Rashawn Walker. There were many more good points about this young man that could have been highlighted. The choice to use sensationalism was about as low as you can go.


October 5th, 2010
10:18 am

My comment concerning the bus wreck being a “freak accident” is in regard to this newspaper’s publication of private details of the victim’s life (a point I thought I made clear). I agree with you: school buses need seatbelts. I do, however, doubt whether most students would wear them.


October 5th, 2010
10:18 am

Sorry, I’m responding to Philosopher.

My thoughts

October 5th, 2010
10:28 am

I would rather take my chances with a seatbelt.

I was very disappointed to see the issue of bullying being a large part of the article. It was not relevant.


October 5th, 2010
10:31 am

My car does not move if there is anyone not buckled.
It’s quite simple, if you do not follow the bus rules, you lose the privilege of riding the bus. If your parents have to be late to work a time or 2 b/c you got suspended from riding the bus, you WILL wear that seatbelt.


October 5th, 2010
10:33 am

I think they should install the seat belts, but it shouldn’t be up to the driver to make sure everyone is buckled up.

On the first day of school, the driver should give a quick demonstration like airline attendants and then let it be the child’s responsibility to buckle.


October 5th, 2010
10:38 am

An average of six children a year die in school bus accidents, according to stats on WebMD.


Now I realize that is heartbreaking for the families of those six children. But there has to be a balance. How many billions of dollars and how much daily hassle do we create to save six children?

Remember now…this is while millions of children are obese, lacking basic nutrition, getting no exercise, living in areas with horrendous air pollution, and exposed to violence in their homes and neighborhoods. And far more children die of childhood cancers each WEEK than die on school buses in a year.

If you were in charge, would you really choose to spend that money on bus seat belts? Is that where you would really impact the most lives?

And thinking that putting your kids in the car is safer is absurd. Over a thousand children die each year in car accidents. Don’t even get me started on the pollution and traffic impacts. Instead of getting rid of buses, we should be mandating that every child be riding them.

Really amazed

October 5th, 2010
10:39 am

O.k. here it goes… some of these comments about fire factor… so, I guess we shouldn’t have seat belts on airplane either????? Come on people! Seat belts have been proven to save lives on any type of transportation. I know friend of mine and family members that insist their kids wear seat belts and some of them are even still in car seat at age 9. Then they send their little darlings on the school bus with no seat belts. Trying to act like the cautious concerned parent. They also have a ocd about germs at home then off they go to public buses and public school. Hello, these places are the dirties around too. Just doesn’t make any sense!!!

Good for Kids

October 5th, 2010
10:43 am

The reason there are not seatbelts is it is not a priority for those who making spending decisions. Money and priorities.
My neighborhoods schools won a safe routes to school grant to improve walkability over a year and a half ago, I think. We have yet to see the improvements made. The money was awarded and I am sure there are workers who are available. Priorities.

I am wondering how much the children interviewed talked about this boy being bullied. If it was a topic among several interviewees, then I understand reporting it once. But I agree it is tacky to have it as a separate headline on ajc.com and to overplay it. It had nothing to do with his death.

Really amazed

October 5th, 2010
10:45 am

Also the comment about getting to school late because these little darlings won’t buckle up…time to put a monitor or parent volunteer on the bus. Yes, parents this could be one of many ways to volunteer to help out your school. Get off your behinds and stop wanting another free hand out. We all know the true reason there are no seat belts. MONEY!!!! Funny how it is a law to buckle up and our own gov’t doesn’t have too!! PUBLIC SCHOOL BUSES EXEMPT! WHAT??? Oh yes, and if little Johnny won’t buckle up, little Johnny doesn’t go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[...] top of him, suggests–or rather, shouts–otherwise. Maureen Downey looks at this issue in Get Schooled. See also the website for the National Coalition for School Bus [...]


October 5th, 2010
10:51 am

@Thelma Why is it you can put 3 students per seat in a car but not a bus. People need to get real and stop making excuses for why they cant put seatbelts in buses.. This are your childrens LIVES we are talking about and as we can clearly see thats something we can never get back once its gone and if this had been your child i bet you would be bitching about not being able to put 3 kids in a seat with seatbels

Mary Jones

October 5th, 2010
10:52 am

I say put the responsibility of using seatbelts in the hands of the parents! If the child does not obey the regulation the first time, their names are taken, their parents are notified and if it happens again, the student will not be allowed to ride the bus. If the parent is put in the position of transporting the student to school, they will know how to control the student’s behavior.
It would take some close observation for a short time, but signs in the school and on the busses would make it clear what the consequences are.
I realize that some students who do not want to attend school would take advantage of this, but, again, put the responsibility with the parents where it belongs!


October 5th, 2010
10:53 am

It seems he was ejected and perished. Fine, install breakproof windows that only slightly angle for airflow on hot days (like the small windows on old vans. Would be interested in the physics or how he ejected though.

Maureen Downey

October 5th, 2010
11:03 am

Kate, I recognize that school buses are safe, but why not make them even safer? There were small numbers of children dying in locked car trunks, yet we now have mandatory trunk releases required in all cars.

Here is another story out of Connecticut about a teen killed in a crash earlier this year. This story is by the Associated Press:

The parents of a Rocky Hill teenager killed last month after the school bus he was riding in plummeted down an embankment are asking Connecticut lawmakers to require buses be equipped with safety belts.

Pratik and Dolly Parikh say they believe their 16-year-old son Vikas would be alive today if he had been wearing a seat belt.

Vikas was a junior who attended both Rocky Hill High School and the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science. He was heading with his classmates to a robotics competition when the crash occurred.

The issue of seat belts on school buses is not a new one, but concerns about cost and practicality have stalled the bill. The Connecticut School Transportation Association says the overall safety record for school buses is good.


October 5th, 2010
11:11 am

But I thought the local school boreds and school admin do everything for the chilren. This is just another example of how the school system in this country is run. Do as I say.


October 5th, 2010
11:14 am

It is clear we have a crisis of busing children to school. The Federal government should step in and take it over so it can be done better.

Really amazed

October 5th, 2010
11:23 am

@Kate, if your child was one of these six children that died… you would want this mandated!!! Don’t talk unless you have been through it. $1.50 per child is far less than what our gov’t spends on free lunches for all of the free loaders out there. Would rather have on live saved then a free loader receiving free lunch for one day!!!!


October 5th, 2010
11:28 am

Hey Ole Guy, great post, but you left some things out. A couple of things happened in the past few weeks down around Columbus involving school buses. First, one high school had a guy get the attention of a girl’s sports team with a laser pointer and he exposed himself. This happened 2 times. Another school had someone shoot a gun and the bullet went through a window. So to add to your list, we need glass that you can’t see out through and it needs to be bullet proof.

Maureen, we can’t protect EVERYBODY from EVERYTHING. MANY school districts have 80 or more kids on a school bus with 3 to a seat. In many cases, up to 20% of the load can actually be required to STAND IN THE AISLE. This is MASS EDUCATION. How many roll over crashes of school buses have occurred in Georgia? How many ftalities occurred in those crashes?

School districts don’t have money to keep smaller class sizes OR run the school system for the full 190 day school year (180 student days 10 planning). There is no money to do seat belts. Even if we put them in, they can’t be used if there are 3 students to a seat and they won’t help those who are standing.


October 5th, 2010
11:33 am

>>>>>they believe their 16-year-old son Vikas would be alive today if he had been wearing a seat belt.<<<<<

They don't KNOW, they BELIEVE.

I BELIEVE I would do a better job if I was paid a million dollars a year. I don't think that's going to happen.

APS Teacher

October 5th, 2010
11:42 am

In theory, I agree buses should have seatbelts. In reality, I know they would not be worn. Children simply will not buckle them or will unbuckle them the second an adult turns around. As a child, our school buses had seatbelts. I do not recall EVER seeing one buckled. It is simply impossible to enforce and thinking you are going to get the $11/hour bus driver to attempt to do so is delusional.

Bus Hater

October 5th, 2010
11:49 am

I agree with the guy above that said to get rid of them all and get your kids to school on your own. That would be excellent. So tired of getting stuck behind a bus at 6:30 on my home. Why are they even out driving then? Should they not have dropped all the kids off by then anyway. Waste of money in my opinion. And not to mention it comes out of everybodies taxes, even though not everyone has kids. Also, some people are responsible with the amount of kids they can raise and take care of, and some are not.