NHTSA Reverses Stance on School Bus Seatbelts

Only six states require seatbelts on school buses. Florida is one of them. Georgia is not.

Only six states require seatbelts on school buses. Florida is one of them. Georgia is not. For years, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s stance against mandating seatbelts in school busses has drawn the ire of parents and other safety advocates. That policy soon may change, judging by a recent declaration by NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “Let me clear up any ambiguity now,” Rosekind said during a speech at a meeting of the National Association for Pupil Transportation in Richmond, Virginia.

“The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus.” In fact, the life-saving potential of three-point seatbelts has never been doubted, the agency says. The hesitancy to mandate them, however, has been and continues to be a matter of cost. A new school bus typically runs $75,000 to $85,000 and outfitting a bus with seatbelts can cost between $5485 and $7,346 depending upon the number of seats and whether lap belts or three-point shoulder-and-lap belts are installed. In an effort to better protect America’s school-age children and teens in the most cost-effective way, NHTSA officials aim to talk with governors of the six states that mandate some form of school bus seatbelts and gather applicable safety data. This will help the agency determine just how to implement best practices nationwide.

Here in Florida, where Harrell and Harrell is based, law requires new school buses purchased on and after January 1, 2001 to be equipped with seat belts or other federally-approved restraint systems, and requires each school bus passenger to wear a properly adjusted belt when the bus is operating. However, in Georgia, where we also practice, no such law exists. “Ultimately, whenever a safety issue becomes haggling over dollars and cents, safety suffers,” Rosekind said. “School buses should have seat belts – period. Seat belts will save the lives of children who we might otherwise lose in crashes. And yet for years, decades even, the conversation about school bus safety has gone right past what ought to happen and straight to all the reasons it can’t happen.

For NHTSA, and I hope all of you, that ends today.” Though statistically rare, injury-causing accidents involving school buses do happen. Here in Jacksonville, a school bus and car collided head-on earlier this month on Merrill Road in the Arlington area, sending both drivers to the hospital. And just last week, five students were injured when a school bus crashed into a tree line on Interstate 95 near International Golf Parkway.

We here at Harrell and Harrell support any efforts to improve the safety of America’s children while traveling to and from school. If your child is injured in an automobile accident of any sort, get medical treatment immediately and call 800-251-1111 to speak with an attorney.