Last week was a sad one in Minnesota. On Tuesday a school bus was knocked over by a van which went through a red light. Sadly four students were killed in the crash with a further 14 injured. The children belonged to Lakeview School in Cottonwood which is about 140 miles west of Minneapolis.
The big yellow buses which carry kids to school in the US are everywhere in commuting times. The fact that they are so noticeable is a help to drivers. School Bus Laws exist which make it illegal in certain circumstances to pass a bus that's stopping to drop off or pick up passengers. Bus companies pride themselves on employing drivers who know their road safety. It's important after all. It has been estimated that 54 % of students attending K-12 (kindergarten to final year high school) ride on a school bus each day.
But the question that I can't help asking is: Why are these school buses not fitted with seat-belts? The news reports quote the authorities as saying that seat belts would not have made a significant difference to the injuries. The children are protected by a system called 'compartmentalization' which is considered roughly as safe as seat-belting. I find this difficult to believe. Is all the research about seat-belts faulty? What about those campaigns to get us to wear seat-belts? Is the data wrong?
A quick internet search brings me to the National Coalition for School Bus Safety. Here you can look at an account of some of the testing that has been done on the need for seat belts. The coalition also claims that the compartmentalization system does not provide adequate protection. In fact according to them current bus designs do not even merit the protection which compartmentalization engineers claim for it, as they do not follow all their the original recommendations.
Do seat-belts make us safer on buses? I can't imagine there are many people willing to say that seat-belts in other vehicles don't generally give us greater protection. So why not school buses?
One other issue I would like to know more about - the stability of the big yellow bus. The bus in this accident was knocked over onto another vehicle. Is this not a little surprising? I don't remember seeing a bus knocked over by a car or truck before. I'd be interested if anyone knew any statistics on that. Is the US School bus more likely to be knocked over?
As a teacher and a parent I'd be the first person to say we are over-protective of our kids. But in this one instance I cannot understand why a school bus wouldn't have the same safety features as a normal automobile.