RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – For the first time, federal regulators are supporting a movement to have a seat belt for every child on a school bus.
Right now, seat belts are not required on school buses here in Virginia. Only six states in the U.S. require them.
In the past, regulators argued that seat belts weren’t needed because school buses are incredibly safe and are built to protect passengers. Now, they want to see all students buckled up. The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it’s an expensive challenge, but it will “save the lives of children.”
For the past few days, the National Association for Pupil Transportation has been conducting it’s annual conference here in Richmond. Many participants understood why federal regulators have made this new recommendation, but there are also questions on how much it will cost to install seat belts on every bus.
“People have to start thinking, ‘how am I going to fund this?’ Is the government going to pay for this, is the state, is the contractor? Where does the money come from?,” said Doug Campbell, who was attending the conference in Richmond.
Historically, school buses have been very safe. In the 2014 – 2015 school year, school buses were involved in 362 crashes in Virginia, but none of the passengers on board died.
“It’s still a very, very safe way to get your children to school, but if there is ways to improve it, one death is too many,” said Martha Meade with AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Meade says there may be other issues jurisdictions will have to consider if they decide to install seat belts on every bus.
“If you think about the fact that a seat belt in a school bus would have to be configured for a five-year-old and an 18-year-old,” Meade said. “Vastly different restraint systems would be needed.”
Seat belt manufacturer IMMI performed crash tests for ABC News, showing that seat belts can keep riders safe if a bus rolls over.
On average, five people in the U.S. die each year in school bus crashes. The government is hoping new rules will help that number go down.
“The children that are belted, they’re safe,” says Larry Grey, IMMI CEO. “The children that are unrestrained, they’re thrown throughout the vehicle.”
Virginia has more than 16,000 school buses. It is unclear how much it would cost to install seat belts for every passenger.
Even though these are just recommendations, many school system are watching the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration very closely to see if they will require seat belts in the future.
In a statement, Charles Pyle, the spokesperson for the Department of Education wrote:
Virginia’s school bus standards reflect the current requirements and findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Virginia Department of Education – in keeping with its commitment to improving student safety – looks forward to contributing to this new examination of the use of seat belts on school buses.