Our view: Seat belts can make schoolbuses even safer
After third-graders at West Duluth's Laura MacArthur Elementary School came up with the great idea, and after Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth wrote legislation to make the great idea a reality, Minnesota Public Radio offered an enlightening way of l...
After third-graders at West Duluth's Laura MacArthur Elementary School came up with the great idea, and after Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth wrote legislation to make the great idea a reality, Minnesota Public Radio offered an enlightening way of looking at it.
"Think about this from a third-grader's perspective," the news outlet reported this month after Simonson not only ran with the third-graders' thoughts but paid them a visit. "From the day they were born, they were strapped into a car seat. Then a booster seat. Now their parents constantly harp (on) them to strap on seat belts. But then they step on a school bus, and there's not even the option to buckle up."
Simonson's bill aims to change that. It would require that any school bus purchased in the state of Minnesota after Dec. 31, 2017, be equipped with safety belts for all passengers. It would give students the option of buckling up for safety on school buses, too.
With a bit of flexibility included in the legislation both to help ease the financial burden on school districts, bus companies, and bus manufacturers and to discourage them from maybe keeping beater buses on the roads longer than they otherwise would as a way of avoiding the new requirement, the measure deserves bipartisan support this session and passage.
Beyond buoying the habit of buckling up, belts on buses can save lives. Yes, school buses already are incredibly safe. They're seven times safer than passenger cars for taking kids to and from school, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board. The American School Bus Council claimed school buses were 70 times safer in an interview in November with ABC News in the wake of a horrific bus crash in Chattanooga, Tenn. That crash was a rarity, leaving five young children dead and their driver behind bars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of the approximately 23.5 million children who ride school buses to and from school and school-related activities every day, only about six die annually in crashes. While that's six too many, it's still an impressive feat.
And one that could be made even more impressive with seat belts.
Last year the National Safety Council officially agreed and endorsed installing seat belts on school buses. In November 2015, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind stated publicly for the first time his agency's position.
"NHTSA has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses," Rosekind said. "So let me clear up any ambiguity now: The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. (Further, bus manufacturers) don't need a rule from Washington to start putting three-point belts on buses today."
But they may want to get started. While only six states currently require seat belts on school buses, Minnesota is among 17 states currently considering legislation, as the National Conference of State Legislatures told MPR. The cause seems to be gaining momentum, including in St. Paul, where three bills similar to Simonson's have failed since 2011.
"Buses are compartmentalized for safety and designed to absorb impact, but not from the side or if the bus turns over," Simonson told the Laura MacArthur third-graders, according to the News Tribune's coverage of his visit. The students' recommendation to fix that is a "powerful" one, the senator said.
And can become state law because, sometimes, kids have the best ideas.