Installing seat belts on school buses won’t come cheap despite NHTSA recommendation

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TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, is charging all school districts in the country to install three-point seat belts on school buses. NTSHA Administrator, Mark Rosekind, Ph.D. said, “seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or on a big yellow bus. School buses should have seat belts.”

This is a change in position for NHTSA, but mom Karen Hallman agrees. “I think it’s about 10 years too late,” Hallman said. “I can’t imagine that you could buckle your kids up in your car why in the world would you not buckle your kids up on a school bus.”

A mom to two kids, Hallman said she only lets her oldest daughter ride the bus, but only from her school to her sibling’s school a few minutes away. “I like to be in control of their safety. I’m worried about the other drivers on the roads running into the school buses.”

NHTSA estimates four kids die every year in crashes involving large school buses and seat belts could cut that number in half.

Kingsport City Schools Transportation Director Tommy Starnes said their school district is the only one that he knows of that has seat belts on all buses. “As long as Kingsport City Schools has maintained their own buses we’ve had seat belts.”

In 2010 the school district switched over to having shoulder-harness seat belts, like the kind you see in a car. “Since we’ve had the school buses with the seat belts on them, we’ve never had a child transported for an injury in an accident,” Starnes said.

But it won’t be cheap for other school districts to make the change. “Once you finish the math you’re probably looking at somewhere around 1.4 million dollars to do our fleet,” said Washington County Schools Director of Schools Ron Dykes.

Dykes said the Board of Education looked at the possibility of adding seat belts to its buses a few years ago. They even reached out to NHTSA for its recommendation, but a combination of cost, fear of kids getting trapped after an accident and NHTSA’s recommendation, they decided against it.

Dykes said school buses are still the, “safest mode of transportation for students.” He estimates it could cost around $8,000 to retrofit each of the district’s 110 buses with seat belts. But with NHTSA changing its stance, Dykes said, “I think most definitely it’s worthy of revisiting.” Dykes said he believes the Board of Education would have revisited the idea even without the recommendation from NHTSA.

Cost could be a hindrance though and Dykes said the state might have to step in to help districts afford the modifications.

NHTSA is looking into how to overcome the financial barriers and is reaching out to states that require seat belts on schools buses to assess the safety benefits of having seat belts on school buses. The agency is also gathering data on whether seat belt requirements reduce the safety risks form driver distraction.

NHTSA is seeking advice on whether it should make seat belts on school buses mandatory.

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