It is common knowledge that seat belts help save lives. Recently released data shows that in 2014, seat belts reduced fatalities for front seat passengers by 50% and saved nearly 13,000 lives. If the idea of self-preservation isn’t enough to get you to buckle up, there’s the fact that driving without a seat belt can result in a ticket or fine from police. Researchers and lawmakers alike recognize the benefits of wearing a seat belt. Why, then, are seat belts not always required on school buses? This exact question is being asked by Tennessee legislators eager to see Tennessee law require all school buses to be equipped with seat belts.
Currently, very few states – including California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas – require school buses to provide seat belts. This is despite overwhelming and convincing support from organizations like the National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many of those who do not think buses need seat belts argue that school buses are already one of the safest forms of transportation, and adding seat belts would create an unnecessary cost. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) noted that the average cost of equipping a large school bus with seat belts could cost in excess of $10,000 per bus.
Despite the additional cost, the NHTSA maintains that the addition of seat belts could make buses even safer, and the potential of saving the lives of children would more than outweigh the extra cost. Certain lawmakers in Tennessee share that sentiment. Representatives from East Tennessee are actively pushing legislation that would make Tennessee the newest state to require seat belts on school buses.
The push for seat belts in Tennessee comes in the wake of a devastating Chattanooga school bus crash that claimed the lives of six children in November 2016. Just two days after the deadly crash, Representative Gerald McCormick began working on a bill that would require all school buses in Tennessee to provide seat belts. One of the largest school bus companies that operates in Tennessee is Durham School Services. According to a report, Durham School Services provides school buses with seat belts when required by state law. Though it is estimated that it would cost nearly $33 million dollars to implement this bill in Tennessee, Representative McCormick believes the operation could obtain sufficient funding.
It should be noted that smaller buses are required to provide lap and shoulder seat belts under federal law, but these buses only account for a small percentage of buses in service. The larger school buses we are accustomed to seeing make up the vast majority of buses in use, and as mentioned earlier, are not required to provide seat belts in most states.
At least 17 other states, including Tennessee, have introduced legislation in 2017 regarding seat belts on buses. This growing trend reflects the outcry over the injury and death of children involved in bus crashes. A study conducted by the NHTSA found that, on average, six school age children die in bus crashes each year, compared to other types of vehicles. Countless others sustain injuries, many of which are traumatic in nature. While it is true that buses are one of the safest forms of transportation, they are not without flaws.