The Pros and Cons of Seat Belts in School Buses

Written By: Mary M. Alward
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Recently the news has been full of school bus accidents where children have been seriously injured or killed. Those who are for seat belts in school buses are adamant that the devices will prevent serious injury or death if a school bus is T-boned or in the case of a rollover. It’s true that the majority of school buses involved in accidents are hit from the side or at an angle. Very few school buses are involved in head-on or rear-end collisions. However, there are two sides to every story.

Opponents of seat belts in school buses give us a different view of the effectiveness of seat belts for students who ride buses to and from school. They feel that the construction of compartment seats, metal seat frames, padded crash barriers and seats protect children and greatly reduce the effectiveness of seat belts.

Let’s look at a crash scenario in a school bus where seat belts have been installed. Most students have strapped themselves, but some have not. The bus is involved in an accident. On impact, the children who are not wearing seat belts are slammed into the students who are strapped in. These children not only absorb their own body weight, but also that of the children who slam into them. This doubles the crash impact for the belted students and serious injury may occur.

Let’s look at another crash scenario. A school bus skids on black ice, leaves the road and rolls into the ditch on its side. All 55 students on board are belted. The gas tank ruptures and there is danger of fire and explosion. The frantic bus driver begins to help students out of their seat belts. She opens the emergency exit and encourages the children she has helped to exit the bus. Other drivers stop and try to help the children to safety. Fire erupts. The driver and half of the children are trapped inside the bus.

This last scenario is bleak but it could happen. One driver cannot be held responsible for getting so many students out of seat belts should a tragic accident occur. Are students safer in a school bus if they are belted in? It all depends on the circumstances. Let’s look at some other pros and cons of seat belts in school buses.


• Education children to buckle up.

• Seat belts often prevent litigation.

• Using seat belts improves behavior on school buses.

• Installation of seat belts in school buses would cost less than $2.00 per child - a small price to pay to prevent serious injury or death.

• Seat belts prevent students from being thrown out of their seats if their bus is involved in an accident.


• School buses have an excellent safety record. Therefore seat belts are not a necessary expenditure.

• Seat belts are not effective in most school bus crashes.

• Though the cost per child to install seat belts in school buses is low, multiply that by thousands of buses and the cost is astronomical.

• Seat belts prevent students from exiting the bus quickly if fire or water is involved. A bus driver cannot help all students escape if they are belted and the bus is sinking in a lake or other body of water.

• The installation of seat belts doesn’t mean they will be used. Drivers cannot be expected to police proper use of seat belts. This would mean helping young students adjust belts each time they got on the bus.

• Seat belts may be a hindrance in catastrophic events such as earthquakes or flash floods.

• Seat belts could be used as weapons if a dispute occurs between students.

• Students who fail to use installed seat belts could cause serious injury to students nearby should a crash occur. They would slam into belted students who would absorb a double impact.

• There are no federal standards to outline proper installation of seat belts in school buses.

• Because a school bus weighs tons and is large, collision impact is absorbed by the mass and the crash force is far less than that felt in an automobile.

• Students on school buses are protected because they are above the impact zone if a crash occurs.

• School buses travel at the speed limit or less. Since speed is a factor in a large percentage of accidents, bus fatalities occur less often than automobile fatalities.

There are many pros and cons to the school bus seat belt controversy. Now that you are aware of the pros and cons, you will be able to make an educated decision on the controversial subject.

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