PBS Documentary Asks Questions About School Bus Safety
published on October 25, 2019 by Sonia Mastros
When it comes to school bus safety, there is probably no more divisive issue than the question of whether seat belts should be mandated for school buses. After all, belts have been required in other pedestrian vehicles like cars and pickups for fifty years - but they have never been mandated in school buses. Should they be?
This is the question discussed in a new documentary funded by Montana's Public Broadcasting System, called "Safe Enough?" The new hour-long film is creating quite a stir and has already begun to win regional awards. Many are already beginning to wonder if it will tilt the conversation in favor of mandated seat belts.
How "Safe Enough?" May Change Perceptions of School Bus Safety
At this point, the arguments for and against belts in buses are well-known. The pro side says that there are multiple accidents a year where belts would have saved lives and that there shouldn't be a price tag on saving children. The con side says that buses are already so safe that they are truly safe enough - the cost of nationwide seat belt upgrades would be monumental while only bringing a statistically tiny change to accident rates.
This is the concept PBS's new documentary targets: That there is such a thing as "safe enough" when it comes to children's safety.
The documentary examines several accidents which occurred in Montana in recent years, particularly an accident in November of 2017. A bus was T-boned in an intersection, then sent rolling over into a ditch. All the students, as well as the driver, walked away unharmed - because, according to the program, they were belted.
This is contrasted with a much more tragic incident in April 2008, when a student was ejected from the bus and died, following a similar high-speed side impact.
Along with analyses of several such accidents, plus crash test data, there are also numerous interviews with major figures in the Montana government as well as multiple school district administrators. Several school administrators also speak to the improvements that seat belts have brought to student behavior. Improved behavior, of course, can also contribute to improved school bus safety.
While the documentary does take a relatively even-handed approach, it does not shy away from concluding that seat belts should be mandated regardless of the costs.
Is It Time for a Rethink of School Bus Safety?
The documentary is due to be publicly shown at the STN EXPO Trade Show on July 29-30, 2019. However, you don't have to wait to see it for yourself: It's currently streaming at montanapbs.org.
Do you support school bus seat belts? If not, what would it take to convince you?