Seat belts in Ohio school buses—it’s about time

By Melissa Martin

Think back to riding the school bus during your younger years. WEEEEEE! Our bodies bounced and took flight when the bus driver hit potholes at a speed far too fast for country roads. And we were supposed to stay seated until the bus came to a full stop, but most stood up abruptly in the aisles as the bus approached their homes. Seats were assigned so we didn’t play musical bus seats.

Ohio House Bill 680 requires passenger seats on school buses to be equipped with occupant restraining devices, beginning on July 1, 2019. “The bill makes it a minor misdemeanor to fail to provide seat belts on a school bus.” I guess the legislators mean business. Will school boards and principals be wearing black and white stripes if they don’t comply with the yellow and black?

In 2017, multiple states introduced school bus seat belt legislation, but dollar signs killed the bills. Will green stop the yellow and black in Ohio?

There are two opposing views.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all new and large school buses have seat belts (both lap and shoulder seat belts). But, what about the older school buses? No, it only applies to the new. And how long does a school bus last? Estimates are between 10 to 12 years. What does a school bus cost? The Ohio Department of Education features A District’s Guidebook to School Bus Purchasing in Ohio.

Should cost matter when it comes to the safety of our children?

The National PTA and The American Academy of Pediatrics are in favor of equipping all large school buses with seat belts. You go parents and physicians!

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proclaimed the strong seats absorb impact during crashes so belts are a no-go. Say what? I wonder if their kids ride school buses? Four to six school-age children die each year on school transportation vehicles. The odds are low—unless it’s your child.

Seat belts in school buses is not a new idea at all. The discussion pops up every now and then, but gets pushed back down. Nonetheless, State Representative John Barnes from Cleveland, Ohio introduced House Bill 680. You go congressman!

According to a 2018 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Avon Lake is the first school district in Ohio to add seat belts to one school bus as part of a pilot program.

May 2018, in South Point a school bus was involved in a head-on crash and one person was taken to the hospital. April 2018, 20 students were injured when a school bus crashed in Cincinnati. March 2018, 2 of 11 students were injured in a school bus crash in Meigs County. These are just a few stories I found in Ohio newspapers for 2018.

According to the most recent statistics from the Ohio Department of Public Safety (2015, Table 5.17 Unit Statistics, Crashes, Deaths, and Injuries Involving School Buses-in Ohio’s 88 counties), school buses were involved in 1,319 traffic crashes with 289 school bus passenger injuries. No deaths recorded. The highest errors were attributed to the school bus drivers (607) and the second highest (588) to other drivers.

How many school bus accidents are there per year in the U.S.? “Since 2003, there have been 1,353 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes—an average of 135 fatalities per year. Occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 8 percent of the fatalities, and nonoccupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.) accounted for 21 percent of the fatalities.”

What can you do? Contact your Ohio state legislators and show support for House Bill 680. Our children are worth the cost.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Scioto County. Contact her at [email protected]

By Melissa Martin