PBS News Hour aired a segment last month on seat belts on large school buses. The piece, produced by Education Week, covered what we in the industry know is a very complex matter in a balanced way and hit on most of the major issues quite well.
In addition to recognizing that the yellow school bus is the safest vehicle on the road today, the story also noted that in order for seat belts to be effective, students have to wear their seat belts and wear them properly.
While it is easy to portray the decision of whether or not to equip school buses with seat belts as one of funding, this piece didn’t do that. The story recognized that funding is one part of the conversation, but there is also a matter of a school district’s overall safety priorities – which can include focus on stop arm violations, greater efforts to increase student safety in the area immediately surrounding the bus, and other safety-related choices – and understanding how seat belts fit into those priorities.
There is simply no clear one-size-fits-all approach. In addition, PBS recognized that there is a gap between the regulatory information provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and what the agency is advising. This is a problem in that we as an industry are conditioned not to take someone’s word for it, we are conditioned to dig much deeper than that – to the facts.
Most importantly, PBS and Education Week got it right that school buses are designed differently than passenger cars and that school buses are incredibly safe. The story also showed that we, as an industry, need to do more to help parents, motorists and communities see how safe school buses are and how complex the decision of whether or not to equip school buses with seat belts really is.