In the US, seatbelts have been required in passenger cars for decades and the CDC has reported that they have saved roughly a quarter-million lives since 1977. However, there are mass-occupancy vehicles that use our roadways daily that do not require seatbelts for all passengers.
The primary example of this is the school bus. While required by regulation in some states and jurisdictions, there is no Federal mandate for seatbelts on school buses. While legislation has been proposed, there is no school bus seatbelt requirement in Washington State.
A poll conducted by the National Education Association’s NEA Today magazine reported that 53% of respondents favored seat belts compared to 47% who were opposed. However, the NEA outlines the main concerns, often expressed by bus drivers themselves, as follows:
- Student use of belt buckles as weapons, causing injury to themselves and/or others.
- Inability to enforce proper usage of seatbelts.
- Difficulty evacuating panicked students in case of an emergency.
Since it is not uncommon for a bus driver to be solely responsible for large groups of students, these factors have carried a lot of weight in the ongoing discussion about the role of seatbelts on our nation’s school buses.
Most municipal city buses also do not require their passengers to wear seatbelts, nor require them as an option, and there have been studies of rail transportation that may support the aforementioned bullet-point about compromised ability to evacuate during an emergency.
On May 23, 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board announced a recommendation to implement seatbelts on all new school buses. As more and more states enact or consider seatbelt requirements for large buses, we can expect more data points and studies to ensure we as a society are making the safest choices possible.