NHTSA to Study the Effect of Seat Belts on Student Behavior
published on April 19, 2019 by Sonia Mastros
When it comes to school transportation safety, few issues have been more contentious than the matter of school bus seat belts. Do they do more good than harm? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? For much of the 20th Century, the general conclusion was “No.” Seat belts, it was said, added significant costs to buses without adding substantially to physical safety, and even introduced new dangers in cases where students were wearing their seat belts incorrectly.Complicating the issue is that school buses, on the whole, are already incredibly safe. On average, only six children per year die as a result of school bus accidents – with or without belts. Given that roughly 25 million children ride school buses every day, is it even reasonable to expect that number to go any lower?
In recent years, the tide of opinion has started to turn. More school districts have started running buses with seat belts, and have said that there’s yet another factor to consider: student behavior. According to this new wave of pro-seat belt districts, belts may have little overall effect on safety in accidents but ultimately contribute to bus safety by keeping students seated properly and facing forward.
Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is attempting to answer the question.
How The NHTSA Hopes to Answer the Question of School Bus Seat Belts
The NHTSA recently announced a sweeping five-year study, hoping to resolve – at least for the moment – the question of whether seat belts on school buses are a good idea. They issued an RFP (request for proposal) to find a contractor to conduct the study, which will specifically revolve around the use of three-point seat belts in buses. That contractor will then seek participating schools, both with and without belts, to study the effects.
Unlike past studies, along with evaluating overall safety, this study will also incorporate questions of student behavior. Schools with seat belts will be encouraged to deploy best practices in encouraging proper seat belt use among their students.
Ultimately, the research contractor selected will be expected to combine analysis of existing research and new data gathered, to issue a final set of recommendations on the matter. Assuming all goes to plan, this will become the new official position of the NHTSA.
Of course, that’s all 5-6 years in the future. For now, it remains up to each school district to decide whether to deploy school bus seat belts or not.
What do you think? Will this be the turning point that brings mandatory belts on buses? Will conventional wisdom prevail? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!