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Good Question: Why Don’t School Buses Have Seat Belts?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At Anoka High School Wednesday night, the girls from Champlin Park got to the soccer game on a school bus, without seat belts. Just like almost every student in Minnesota, every day.

We’re required to wear seat belts in cars, but why aren’t there seat belts in school buses?

“I’ve been in the business for 30 years, it’s a question that’s been out there for over 30 years,” said Keith Paulson, the transportation director for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the largest district in the state.

School buses have been designed to protect kids using a theory called compartmentalization.

“The seats are padded above us, behind us, below us,” Paulson said.

The seats are tight together, and high. Over the years, they’ve risen to 24 inches tall. The idea is that kids stay in the compartment.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency took a detailed look at this issue. They concluded that seat belts would make a difference in smaller buses, weighing under 10,000 pounds. They concluded that it would make sense to increase seat back height from 20 inches to 24 inches.

Both of those recommendations have been adopted in Minnesota, which is why smaller buses do have lap and shoulder belts.

Researchers in Alabama spent three years analyzing a dozen buses where seat belts were installed.

They found that a lap and shoulder belt, used correctly, would make a difference. The kids put them on 61.5 percent of the time. But it’s so rare that a child dies inside a bus, researchers figured it would cost $32 to $38 million to result in one life saved.

“If you had all the money you could do that, but we don’t,” Paulson said . “Many school buses, school districts have funding issues.”

There are also concerns that if there would be a need to quickly evacuate a bus, kindergarteners and first graders might have a hard time unbuckling their seat belts quickly.

According to the Alabama researchers, three times more kids die outside the bus during loading and unloading, and if there’s extra money to be spent, it should be spent there first.

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