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School Bus Safety: Balancing the Safest Transportation Mode

We know the wheels on the bus go round and round. The question now before school transportation and safety officials is whether seat belts on the bus should go click, click, click?

If you believe the latest research, school buses are, by far, the safest way for students to get to school. More than 25 million students ride the bus each day. While 99 percent of those trips are completed safely, a video report from Education Week and the PBS Newshour, says that as many as six students die in school bus accidents each year.

Statistically, school buses, the majority of which don’t have seat belts, are undeniably safe. Some say there’s no reason not to make them safer.

Since 2012, every school bus bought by the Austin Independent School District in Texas is required to have seat belts.

Kris Hafezizadeh, Austin ISD’s transportation director, tells the PBS Newshour the district sees the seatbelts as part of a larger culture of safety in the school system:

“We carry the most precious cargo, right? We always ask our kids when they get in the car to put on their seat belts. So, to carry the culture inside of our school buses, it does add to additional safety.”

For many school districts, the question of whether to install seatbelts on school buses comes down to cost-benefit analysis.

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland buses 100,000 students per day and has never had a fatal accident. It’s not that the school district is against seat belts, according to one administrator. It’s simply that, with that safety record, it’s hard to justify spending nearly $1 million a year to outfit the district’s buses with seat belts, according to the PBS Newshour report.

Federal and state governments have been hesitant to mandate school bus seat belts. Only seven states currently have such laws on the books.

But Mark Rosekind, the former administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says school districts shouldn’t wait for government mandates to equip their buses. “Three-point seat belts should be the norm on all new school buses,” he says, “because we’re talking about trying to save every life.”

For the time being, each school district will have to make the determination as to whether seat belts on school buses are the right move. As of now, most are choosing to go without.

For more about the arguments for and against seat belts on school buses, including new research on how accidents injure students, check out the full video report below:

Is your district considering purchasing new school buses this summer? Do you have plans to engage your community in a conversation about the possibility of seat belts? Tell us in the comments.