Editorial: School buses need seat belts

Posted 12/15/18

The Tiverton school bus that hurtled off the highway and into the woods recently emerged dented but intact.

But for those unfortunate enough to have been trapped inside without seat belts, the …

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Editorial: School buses need seat belts

Posted

The Tiverton school bus that hurtled off the highway and into the woods recently emerged dented but intact.

But for those unfortunate enough to have been trapped inside without seat belts, the experience was many-fold more violent.

Heading home from a holiday outing, youngsters and seniors alike were tossed about without mercy, slammed into metal walls and ceiling and against one another.

Everyone aboard was hurt, some seriously. A prosecutor listed some of the carnage — “broken ribs, broken jaw, crushed vertebrate, blood around the lungs, and others of the same magnitude.”

And once more, the obvious question — How is it that a country that preaches the need to buckle up, that “seat belts save lives,” allows school buses to carry their young cargo without a seat belt or car seat in sight?

Some Rhode Island lawmakers try every year to change that — they attempted again this year. In Massachusetts, only mini- school buses (no more than eight students) must have seat belts. At last count only seven states require belts in full-sized school buses.

The school bus industry has answers at the ready when asked.

They (backed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) insist that school buses are different from and safer than cars in accidents. They are bigger, stronger and benefit from something called “compartmentalization” — sturdy, closely spaced seats and energy-absorbing seat backs that protect their young cargo.

And, they add, the cost would be outrageous.

That last is probably what counts most. And with belts would likely come a demand for more bus monitors to help six-year-olds strap themselves in.

As the Tiverton tragedy and others before it suggest, however, buying seat belts would be money well spent.

Protecting children from injury and death is reason enough. But there is a message involved as well. Youngsters are smart enough to wonder if seat belts are really such a big deal if school buses don’t need them.

Ask someone on that Tiverton bus how helpful “compartmentalization” proved to be. Much as some would rather not discuss it, seat belts ought to be required standard equipment.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.