CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County school transportation officials want the public to know about the benefits and dangers of using seat belts on school buses.
Currently, West Virginia does not require students to wear seat belts on school buses. Five states have seat belt laws, but only one requires that they be worn. A total of 23 states have legislation pending.
Brette Fraley, transportation director for Kanawha County Schools, said West Virginia could be next, so they want to make sure parents know the pros and cons of seat belt usage.
“Before long, it’ll go throughout the United States,” he told MetroNews.
Fraley gave a seat belt demonstration Tuesday at the Kanawha County Schools Transportation Office in Crede. He said school buses would have a standard over-the-shoulder lap belt. Special needs buses would have double-shoulder protection.
Those in the Kanawha County school system have a lot of concerns about seat belts especially when it comes to school bus accidents. Fraley fears students will be trapped in their seat belts if the bus were to flip over.
“What happens when a child becomes inverted in a seat? How do we get them off the bus?” Fraley said. “When you go in the river or you’ve had a serious bus fire where kids can’t get off — it’s not one or two get killed. It’s 24-27. I don’t want to live with that.”
Bus drivers would have to make sure every student is buckled in. Wesley Stone, school bus inspector for the West Virginia Department of Education, said that’s a big responsibility.
“You could have 60 or more students on the bus. How do you enforce and check to make sure that every student is buckled in and buckled in correctly and that they leave them on?” Stone said.
There are some benefits to seat belt usage. Peggy Stone, transportation supervisor for Kanawha County Schools, said it keeps kids safe and it helps with discipline issues.
“They have that seat belt on — ‘oh, I have to stay in my seat’ — especially the littler ones that have a tendency to get up because they can’t see. If they had that seat belt on — ‘okay I have to stay here because I’m in my seat belt just like a car’,” she said.
Each compartment inside a school bus helps protect children from bus crashes, Stone said. School buses are also larger than a car, noted Wesley Stone.
“Our school buses are larger, so with a larger vehicle, it’s like a larger object. It absorbs the impact. It disperses that impact over a larger area versus a smaller area like in our car,” he said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration supports the use of seat belts in school buses and said the decision to install them should be left to the discretion of state and local districts.
In response, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services said seat belt usage should be considered as on option based on state or local need.
Here are some of the reasons why the NASDPTS supports lap/shoulder belts on school buses, according to its Feb. 2014 report:
- NHTSA has approved technical standards for for equipping and using lap/shoulder belts.
- Compartmentalization alone has limits for protection; lap/shoulder belts enhance protection.
- Capacity remains the same with lap/shoulder belts.
- Evacuation process can be aided with lap/shoulder belts.
- Lap/shoulder belt design minimizes the possibility of the belt being used as a weapon due to a retractable web system.
- Students will wear them because they are taught to wear seat belts in a moving vehicle.
- Equipping school buses with seat belts can reduce school district and driver liability for student protection.
- Seat belts have improved student behavior and creates an environment that has less potential for driver distraction.
- Lap/shoulder belts may result in increased ridership due to parent preference that children be properly secured.
- Costs for equipping school buses with seat belts are reasonable.