The lap and shoulder belt bill may provide a solution to aid this stubborn problem. The school bus is the only vehicle on the road today for which a lap-shoulder belt is not federally mandated. The argument against school bus lap-shoulder belts wears thin as one considers that across the country there are about 20,000 injuries on school buses each year...a school bus accident locally last week certainly unnerved many. Parents wonder, “Why does my child leave the safety of my car where their car seat or lap-shoulder belt ensures the highest degree of safety, to get onto a school bus without any restraint system at all?
Two weeks ago, I observed a simulated but real school bus accident in Indiana. A big rig was driven into the side of a school bus at 35 mph. The bus was fitted with cameras and other data collection equipment. In the bus, crash dummies were both belted and unbelted. The horrific crash proved “fatal” for some unbelted dummies, while the belted remained safely restrained.
A safety supervisor, who began phasing in safety belts on all buses in his school district five years ago, told me of the benefits of the restraints beyond obvious improved safety. Because the students are buckled, discipline issues have reduced by 90 percent, and better behavior has considerably reduced driver distraction. Initially, only a few drivers wanted to drive the buses with restraints, but as the other drivers saw how much improved the students’ behavior was, they began to request buses with lap-shoulder belts. Before long, all the drivers wanted safety belts on their buses.
Bullying is now minimal on district school buses. The penalty for bullying is suspension from school, and suspension is often a catalyst for dropping out. In his district, the safety belts have positively affected student retention. Today, not buckling up is now the most common offense. Because the rule is that if they don’t buckle they don’t ride; parents quickly fix that problem because not riding inconveniences them.
I asked if it was difficult to get the students to buckle up. He said that today, children expect to wear a lap-shoulder belt, so it wasn’t hard at all. He added that even parents of kindergartners like the system as the first row or two are reserved for their little ones. A seat quickly converts from a lap-shoulder belt to a five-point system. Parents get on the bus and buckle their wee one; upon arrival at school, the buckle is quickly released by the child with only 2 pounds of pressure.
Besides overall safety, two of the most important daily effects are that driver satisfaction and retention has greatly improved – which helps avoid shortages – and many parents who had previously driven their children to school, now send their children on the bus, because the bus now has a safer and calmer atmosphere.
Every day, we entrust the safety of our community’s children to our bus drivers. We count on them to ensure our children get to school and return home to us, each day, safely.
We also know that we need to attract the best, and ensure our best want to stay, by making their jobs less stressful and more rewarding.
The solution to both problems, it turns out, is the same. Let’s pass House Bill 395 so every student has a safe ride, and every driver has a safe bus.
Susan Lynn represents District 46 in the state House of Representatives. Lynn chairs the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee and is a member of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee and the Ethics Committee.