Should Massachusetts school buses have seatbelts?

No children were injured when a van carrying kids to school collided with a car in Haverhill, Massachusetts this week. But the car accident has spurred a statewide debate. School officials say that the four children in the van were likely kept safe because they were wearing seatbelts, and now they are suggesting that all buses should have seatbelts.

Currently, only buses or vans carrying small numbers of children or children with disabilities require seatbelt usage. But the Haverhill School superintendent said in a statement yesterday that the accident shows that it’s time to enforce seat belt usage for all students on all school transportation vessels — big or small.

Some Massachusetts lawmakers have agreed in recent years. A few have pushed for laws that would require the installation of seatbelts in all buses in the state. But so far, none of the efforts have been successful. That’s probably because safety groups tend to disagree.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s determined that school buses are some of the safest vehicles on the road and are seven times safer than regular cars or trucks. For that reason, the NHTSA concluded that children are safe on school buses without seatbelts.

Additionally, the NHTSA said that children are more likely to be hurt in accidents when getting on or off school buses instead of while riding on them. Additionally, children who ride in cars to and from school face a greater risk of being injured in an accident, the safety administration said.

An office manager for Coppola Bus Inc. in Haverhill brought up another point.

“God forbid there’s an accident and you have two or three kids in a seat who could panic and not get their belts off,” she said. “Or imagine kids goofing around and hitting themselves with seat belts or having a belt hanging over a seat and having a kid trip over it?”

What are your thoughts and opinions? Should Massachusetts school buses be equipped with safety belts?

Source: Eagle-Tribune, “Crash fuels debate,” Mike LaBella, March 14, 2013