Seat belt use limited on Sikeston school buses

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

SIKESTON -- Monday's school bus crash in Liberty has once again sparked the age-old discussion of whether or not safety belts should be required on all school buses.

"Seat belts are not mandatory on school buses. And in some agencies, they are highly frowned upon," said Randy Thompson, Sikeston R-6 transportation director.

Thompson went on to explain school bus seats are engineered for compartmental collapse. The high back of the seat is designed to collapse up and over the children in the seats, and therefore locking them in place, he said.

Agencies that are against mandating seat belts say a driver's capability is a major point of their contention, Thompson said.

"So if a school bus carrying 50 elementary children wrecks in a ditch and is under water or stalls at a railroad crossing or catches on fire, will someone have enough time to unfasten all of those seat belts and get the children out safely?" Thompson said.

Thompson also pointed out school buses are the safest mode of transportation in the United States, and a child is more safe riding on a bus to school than in a car with mother and father, according to federal statistics.

Federal law requires children 4 and under, providing they do not exceed the weight factor, be seat belted in on a bus, Thompson said. Children who are 5 are exempt.

Currently Sikeston schools' 4-year-olds are the only students who wear seat belts when riding the bus, Thompson said. And for now Sikeston R-6 will continue with its current transportation practice of requiring only 4-year-olds to wear seat belts as mandated by law.

Adding seat belts to a bus or purchasing a new bus equipped with seat belts, wouldn't be too difficult to do; however, to purchase a new bus with seat belts costs about $1,000 more per bus than those without seat belts, Thompson noted.

Thompson said he isn't aware of any school district in the area that has seat belt-equipped buses for all ages of their students.

"And if they do, it's happenstance," Thompson said.

Drivers of the other vehicles involved in Monday's accident were killed, but no one on the bus was killed, Thompson pointed out.

"It's a rare incident where kids in a bus accident get seriously injured, and that's simply because of the size of the bus and the fact that it absorbs the impact," Thompson said.

There are as many pros as there are cons with this issue, Thompson said, adding: "You just have to pick and choose, and decide what is the best to fit for your community -- and your kids."

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