School buses are safe enough without seat belts, and students in many cases ignore a requirement to wear them, according to an Alabama report released last week. The report determines that the straps would save the life of about one child every eight years.
The study was ordered by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley after four students were killed in a 2006 bus crash. Following the crash, federal transportation officials required new, smaller school buses to be equipped with lap-and-shoulder belts by 2011. Larger buses are to have higher seat backs.
The three-year study found that putting belts on most buses would be expensive—about $11,000 to $15,000 per bus, and would require larger seats, reducing the number of students who could sit on the bus. In many cases, the study found, students don’t put the belts on, and drivers complain that they can’t see the children.
Alabama has about 7,300 school buses on the road, and there have been five deaths since 1977, according to Dan Turner, the retired University of Alabama professor who led the study. The researchers said it would be more cost-effective to spend money improving the process of getting students on and off school buses because most deaths occur when children are exiting a bus, crossing a road, or crowding around a bus to board it.
A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as School Bus Seat Belts Found Not Cost-Effective