School bus seats are designed to protect students

There have been some nasty accidents involving bus transportation in the news recently. I can't help but wonder whether buses, both commercial and school, have seat belts.

If they don't have seat belts, why not? Seems like a no-brainer to have them, especially for schoolchildren.

— Judy B., Medford

While you do occasionally hear of bad bus accidents happening, Judy, people in the bus business insistent that their vehicles are safe even without safety belts.

Neither commercial nor school buses in Oregon are required to have seat belts.

In school buses, seats are designed in a "compartmentalized" fashion to protect children better than a lap belt, according to Tom Reimer, supervisor for the Eagle Point School District transportation department.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, there are "serious questions" about the ability of lap belts to protect children in a bus crash, and lap belts are the only type of seat belt that could be installed in the buses.

ODE believes that compartmentalization acts as a "passive form" of crash protection and makes it so that neither students nor bus drivers need to ensure that belts are properly fastened.

If a crash were to happen, the seat in front of a student would deflect forward and a child's knees would hit the seat, followed by a child's chest.

Installing a lap belt would restrain the child's pelvis, meaning their head would likely feel the impact first.

"Their knees will slide up against the seat in front of them," said Reimer.

According to ODE, there has not been a single fatality on an Oregon school bus since 1976.

On commercial buses, the rules about safety belts are a little different.

Commercial vehicles are required to have safety belts only if the vehicle typically transports 15 or fewer passengers.

This could change, Judy, if proposals on the 2012 U.S. Department of Transportation's Motorcoach Safety Action Plan come to fruition.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2010 proposed that all new motorcoaches be equipped with seatbelts, and by the end of 2013 the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to adopt the rule.

Once the final rule is published, bus manufacturers would have three years to comply. The rule wouldn't apply to all of the buses currently on the road, only to new buses.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.


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