Posted On December 2, 2016 In Personal Injury
A recent school bus crash in Tennessee has reignited a debate on whether these vehicles should have seatbelts. Last week, six children died and a dozen more were injured when their school bus flipped over and wrapped around a tree. Authorities believe the bus driver was speeding at the time of the accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelts could prevent deaths and injuries caused by school bus accidents like the one in Tennessee.
At the moment, there is no federal mandate requiring large school buses to use the same three-point seatbelts found in most cars. Six states have laws requiring school buses to use seatbelts. While Texas is one of those six states, most districts have not installed seatbelts on school buses. Seatbelts are mandatory on some school buses, but only if the Texas legislature reimburses school districts.
In 2009, the Texas Legislature approved $10 million to provide school buses with seat belts. A budget crisis in 2011 lowered the amount to $2.5 million, which went to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). TEA used $415,000 of the $2.5 million for equipping school buses with seatbelts. It costs $10,000 to equip one school bus with three-point seatbelts. If we look at the math, this means only 41 or 42 schools buses in Texas received state funding to install this potentially lifesaving equipment. According to the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation, our state has 39,000 school buses. Despite this dilemma, some school districts have set aside their own funding to upgrade school buses with seatbelts.
NHTSA claims large school buses distribute impact forces differently than other vehicles during head-on collisions. Occupants experience less force during an impact due to the size of a school bus. This is one reason why NHTSA has not created a federal seatbelt rule for large school buses. It does require seatbelts for smaller school buses.
Compartmentalized impact force will not protect students riding in a large school bus during a rollover accident. Large school buses are also vulnerable to side impacts. Two-point seatbelts are not adequate for protecting students during these crashes. Without three-point seatbelts, students are far more at risk for catastrophic injuries and death during an accident like the one occurred in Tennessee last week.
The National Safety Council estimates 25 million students nationwide are shuttled to school in buses every day. NHTSA estimates it will cost between $7,300 and $10,000 to equip each bus with three-point seatbelts. Billions of dollars would have to be spent to enforce a federal mandatory seatbelt requirement.
For these reasons, NHTSA believes it will be several years, even more than a decade, before a federal seatbelt requirement is possible.
If you were in charge of the situation, what solutions would you propose for improving school bus safety? Let us know by connecting with the Texas personal injury attorneys at Mike Love & Associates, LLC on Facebook.
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