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Seat Belts On School Buses: Safety Measure Or Waste Of Money?

HOUSTON — Two Students have died and three other people are seriously injured after a school bus overturned, and rolled off a Houston freeway overpass.

There were four students on board, including two females who did not survive. 17-year-old died at the scene, and 14-year-old Janecia Chatman died from her injuries at Memorial Hermann Hospital. The other two students on the bus, siblings Brandon and Lakeshia Williams, both 17-year-old REACH students, were transported to the hospital along with the bus driver.

On its normal route, the school bus brings students to Furr and REACH high schools. At the time of the crash, the bus was bound for Furr High School.  Houston Police spokesman, Victor Senties suggested that a car may have hit the bus after swerving to avoid another vehicle. Bus Driver, Louisa Pacheco then over-corrected, when it broke through Guard rails and went over the overpass. The bus rolled and landed on its side.

According to Tuesday’s news conference, Pacheco has been with the school district for roughly 3 years. The school operates on a “point” system, and Pacheco had no points on her driving record.

Seat Belts Optional On The Bus

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately three hundred fatal bus crashes occur annually, yet seat belts for the Houston Independent School District are only equipped on about 40-50% of their buses. While the bus in Tuesday’s crash was equipped with lap belts, they are not required. The HISD General Manager of Transportation stated that lapbelts were optional for students due to the difficulty of enforcing a lap-belt rule.

Currently, only four states in the United States require seat belts on buses. Some, however, don’t require that children use them. The topic has been in the public eye before, after 11-year-old Isabelle Tezla died in a New Jersey Accident:

Is Money Being Put Ahead Of Childrens’ Lives?

When bus accidents happen, especially those as tragic as Tuesday’s crash, many safety advocates bring the debate of school bus restraints back into discussion. Specifically, many advocates want school bus lap belts to be installed on all buses, and the use of those restraints to be enforced. Districts disagree, primarily due to the high cost of installation, and, as the HISD General Manager of Transportation indicated, the difficulty of enforcing the rule while driving the bus.

The National Coalition for Seatbelts on School Buses lists the following as reasons why all large school buses should have seatbelts. (Smaller school buses that weigh less than 10,000 pounds are already required to have them.)

  • If a crash occurs, the use of seat belts will reduce the probability of death and the severity of injuries to children correctly seated in school buses.
  • Seat belt usage improves passenger behavior and reduces driver distractions.
  • Seat belts offer protection against injuries in rollover or side impact crashes.
  • Seat belt usage in school buses reinforces good safety habits.
  • The cost to install seat belts is nominal.

Opponents of seat belts on large buses disagree, saying that they are not only unnecessary, but could also be hazardous. According to the NHSTA:

  • Seat belts are of no value in the majority of fatal accidents.
  • More children are killed around school buses — walking to and from the school bus stop — than inside school buses.
  • No data proves conclusively that seat belts reduce fatalities or injuries on school buses.
  • School buses  are heavier and experience less crash force than smaller cars and trucks. School buses also have high padded seats specifically design to absorb impact.
  • There is no guarantee that once installed students will use seatbelts. Studies have shown that mixed and improper use of seat belts can increase the risk of injuries.
  • Money proposed for seat belt installation could be better spent on other safety measures.

Both sides of the debate agree that school bus transportation is the safest way to get to school, and one of the safest forms of transportation in general. Since 1984, an average of 11 passengers per year have died in school bus crashes (this number excludes pedestrian bus accidents).

Following A School Bus Accident

The lawyers at Schultz & Myers are familiar with the complicated laws and regulations governing common carriers.  They have investigated and handled many commercial bus cases to a successful conclusion, and dedicate their own time and resources to raising awareness about bus safety. Just last month, Stephen Schultz and Josh Myers traveled across the state of Missouri to lead a bus safety seminar for drivers.

Call our accident lawyers today at 314.444.4444.

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