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School bus seats safe without seatbelts

I’ve read about several accidents involving school buses across the country, so I’m wondering why seat belts aren’t mandatory on yellow school buses?

— Deanna G. (a.k.a. “Concerned Nana”), via email

There must have been more than one “Concerned Nana” out there over the years, because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — the same federal agency that has required automakers to equip cars and light trucks with seat belts since 1968 — has a whole web page devoted to the safety of school buses.

Smaller school buses weighing 10,000 pounds or less are required by law to be equipped with seat belts because they’re closer to the size of traditional passenger vehicles.

It may not seem like it to the concerned parents and grandparents out there, but school buses are among the most regulated vehicles on U.S. roads, according to the NHTSA.

That distinctive yellow paint color and their flashing red lights and stop signs make them among the most visible vehicles on the road, so motorists are mindful at a glance that children are nearby.

“They also include protective seating, high crush standards and rollover protection features,” the NHTSA website says.

Those basic brown seats are designed to be closely spaced together and absorb energy in the event of a crash, according to the NHTSA, and large school buses are far heavier than cars and light trucks on the road.

The seat design is part of a system of “compartmentalization,” which takes advantage of large school buses’ significantly heavier weight than cars.

Buses have much more mass to distribute the impact compared to a car. For instance, the typical 78-passenger Blue Bird Vision school bus has a weight of up to 33,000 pounds — about 16.5 tons — according to the school bus manufacturer’s website. In comparison, the average car is a little more than 4,000 pounds or roughly 2 tons.

These design considerations — not to mention laws that prohibit motorists from passing school buses dropping off or picking up passengers — all add up to a vehicle that is about 70 times more likely to get a student to school safely compared to traveling by car, according to the NHTSA.

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@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.