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How safe are kids on seat belt-less school buses?

A school bus drop off students in Nashville, Tenn., where the city's school district has experienced one of the worst shortages of drivers in the country.
A school bus drop off students in Nashville, Tenn., where the city's school district has experienced one of the worst shortages of drivers in the country.

The Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group met for the first time this week. The meeting follows a crash last month in Stark County where a minivan struck a school bus causing it to roll over. An 11-year-old boy died.

Kathryn Mobley, reporter with The Ohio Newsroom member station WYSO in Dayton, has been reporting on seat belts in school buses and joined The Ohio Newsroom to talk about the debate.

On why only nine states have seat belt laws
"According to the National Traffic Safety administration, annually about 11 children nationwide are killed while riding on a school bus that is in a traffic accident. In Ohio, the Ohio Highway State Patrol have recorded two children who have died in a school bus accident while they were actually on the school bus. Because of these low number of fatalities, it really is not a priority for politicians to push harder for seat belts or some type of restraints to be on school buses.

On school bus seat belt cost
"The average school bus ranges now from $110,000 and $150,000 just for one school bus. And then if you're going to equip it with three-point safety belts—that's the shoulder and the lap straps—you need to add another $12,000. Thus one school bus could cost a district as much as $162,000. That's a very steep price tag especially for smaller districts."

On seat belt uptake
"Another difficulty — I spoke with a superintendent from Northeast Ohio, and she was saying with her younger elementary school students, they physically were not able to navigate the seat belt latches, so they couldn't get themselves out of the seat belts, which then meant at every stop the bus driver had to unfasten themself, go back and then unlatch whatever child needed to be let out to get off at the stop."

On other school bus safety considerations
"School buses have a lot of safety features. The body of the bus is not actually attached to the frame, and that allows the body to slide and absorb energy in the case of the bus hitting something in the front or from the rear. The seats are designed based on the theory of compartmentalization. As long as children sit properly in their seat, facing forward, they're securely cradled and the padding will absorb any shock from a frontal or rear impact. However, if a school bus encounters a side impact, the benefits of compartmentalization fail."

Clare Roth is the managing editor of The Ohio Newsroom. She coordinates coverage of the entire state, focusing particularly on news deserts.
Kathryn Mobley is an Education and Politics Reporter at Ohio Newsroom member station WYSO in Dayton.