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Officials say school buses are safe for kids to ride

A recent report indicates that nationwide, school bus-related accidents send 17,000 children to emergency rooms each year.

A recent report indicates that nationwide, school bus-related accidents send 17,000 children to emergency rooms each year.

November 19, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

TRI-STATE - Of all of the memories students might have of riding school buses, chances are good none of those memories involves being bullied by another child wielding a seat belt buckle.

A propensity for violence among some children is one of the many considerations school personnel must make when deciding whether to install seat belts on school buses.

A recent report indicates that nationwide, school bus-related accidents send 17,000 children to emergency rooms each year, more than double the number in previous estimates that only included crashes.

Nearly one-fourth of the accidents occur when children are boarding or getting off school buses, while crashes account for 42 percent. Slips and falls on buses, getting jostled when buses stop or turn suddenly, and injuries from roughhousing are among other ways students get injured, according to the report.

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Injuries range from cuts and sprains to broken bones, but most are not life-threatening and don't require hospitalization.

Nationally, 23.5 million children travel on school buses each year.

Locally, seat belts are not required on school buses in Maryland, West Virginia or Pennsylvania.

As many cons as pros

Bob Boylan, coordinator of transportation for Jefferson County (W.Va.) Schools, said he has put thought into the idea of seat belts on buses, including during his previous employment with Greyhound.

"It's an issue that I think is worth looking into, but it's an issue that has as many cons as pros, and maybe more cons than pros at this point," Boylan said.

Belts, harnesses and child seats already are installed if needed for small children and on special-needs buses, Boylan said.

One drawback of putting them on every seat on every bus is that such an installation would reduce seat capacity, Boylan said. Seats now are designed to hold three smaller children or two older children each.

Lap belts alone could cause smaller children to "submarine out" from the belt and possibly suffer a more serious injury, Boylan said. In a serious accident, a bus driver is equipped with a tool to cut himself or herself free from the seat belt, but Boylan said he worries that children could be trapped.

Buses currently are designed with the crumple zone and crash impact zone beneath the children.

"Usually, the children are sitting above the impact zone in a normal bus," Boylan said.

High seat backs help prevent more severe injuries, and also help prevent objects from hitting children.

Along with concerns about injuries, Boylan also said he worries that a child could use the belt or its metal buckle as a weapon.

"I could just see them hitting each other with those seat belts, those buckles," he said.

Vandalism also could occur, given that children already punch holes in the seats, cut them or write on them.

Enforcement also could be an issue since a bus driver has enough to worry about without making sure all children are buckled in, Boylan said.

"You know, as I know, the kids aren't going to put them on, and they're not going to wear them all the time," he said.

Boylan said he did not have any statistics on how many children have been taken to an emergency room as the result of an injury, but said he only could recall a couple of minor injuries involving a head bump or possible whiplash during his 18 months with the school system.

Boylan said he could not think of an incident in which a seat belt would have prevented an injury.

Jefferson County has 110 buses, and transports about 6,100 children twice a day. Buses are on the roads for 145,000 miles every month, Boylan said.

'Very safe way to travel'

Boyd Michael, assistant superintendent of school operations for Washington County Public Schools, said no statistics were available on the number of children who have had to be taken to the hospital as a result of a school bus-related incident.

Michael said he recalled an incident in 2002 when a couple of students were taken to the hospital after the school bus in which they were riding was struck by a truck.

Washington County transports more than 17,000 youngsters each day. The county owns 147 buses, and contracts with the owners of another 70 buses. Altogether, buses in Washington County travel 2.7 million miles a year, Michael said.

Michael said the county will follow the state's lead on whether seat belts are needed. If directed to do so by the state, seat belts would be installed, he said.

School buses are safe, Michael said.

"The bus is a very safe way to travel," he said.

Safety and costs

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon agreed.

"A school bus is still the safest transportation for students," Arvon said. "It's safer than walking or riding a bicycle, and statistically, it's safer than riding in a personal vehicle."

Several years ago, after a school bus accident, officials with Berkeley County Schools looked into installing seat belts on buses, but their research showed no conclusive evidence on whether belts would help, Arvon said.

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