Should seat belts be added to school buses in Georgia?

The recent Liberty County school bus accident that tragically claimed the life of a child and injured over 20 others begs the question of why Georgia does not require seat belts in our school buses.  There are many opinions about this important national debate, but as personal injury attorneys, we know seat belts saves lives, both in passenger cars and school buses. Georgia NEEDS legislation to make seatbelts on school buses mandatory.

Here are the facts:

  • The NHTSA sets national standards for school bus safety. Federal law doesn’t require seat belts on the big yellow school buses that most students ride. The buses are designed to protect riders through “compartmentalization” like an egg carton. The seats are designed with safety features such as high, energy-absorbing seat backs and closely spaced seats so children are kept snug.
  • At present, only six states have existing variations of a seat belt law for school buses or have introduced legislation regarding seat belts on school buses in the 2017 legislative session: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.   New York was the first to adopt such measures.
  • Although seatbelts are not required on the big buses, the NHTSA requires three-point seat belts (lap-and-shoulder belts) on school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are roughly seven times safer than passenger cars or light trucks.
  • Each school day, 25 million children climb into 500,000 buses in the United States to ride a big yellow bus.
  • From 2006 to 2015 there were 301 school-age children killed in school transportation-related crashes. Of these, 54 were occupants of school transportation vehicles.
  • School buses can be equipped with one of two types of seat belts: lap belts that go over the waist or three-point lap and shoulder belts that go across the body and that experts say are much safer.
  • Despite continued crashes like the tragic one in Chattanooga last November, the cost of seat belt installation remains the major stumbling block to adopting mandatory laws. The National Association of Pupil Transportation estimates that fitting school buses with seat belts costs between $7,000 and $11,000 per bus.
  • Although Georgia does not have any pending legislation regarding adding seat belts, Fulton County Schools this year became the first district in Georgia to purchase seat-belt-equipped buses. It purchased 90 buses, powered by propane, at a price of more than $91,000 each. The district plans to add more than 400 seat-belt-equipped buses within the next 5 years.

If you have a question about other laws in Georgia that can impact our school-age children, contact Friedman and Martin at 912-232-8500.