Are seat belts mandatory in Florida? Yes.
In the wake of the tragedy in Tennessee, people are discussing whether seat belts are required for school buses in their individual states. Florida law is clear. Seat belts are required on all school buses purchased after December 31, 2000.
316.6145 School buses; safety belts or other restraint systems required.—
(1)(a) Each school bus that is purchased new after December 31, 2000, and used to transport students in grades pre-K through 12 must be equipped with safety belts or with any other restraint system approved by the Federal Government in a number sufficient to allow each student who is being transported to use a separate safety belt or restraint system. These safety belts must meet the standards required under s. 316.614. A school bus that was purchased prior to December 31, 2000, is not required to be equipped with safety belts.
Tennessee failed to pass similar legislation two years ago after a fatal bus crash in Knoxville, Tennessee, which killed two students and an adult. It failed to garner enough support.
How safe are school buses?
Numerous federal and academic studies have concluded that school bus is one of the safest forms of ground transportation of all. The National Safety Council says they’re about 40 times safer than the family car. Over half a million public school buses carry millions of children billions of miles a year. Yet, only about five to six children die each year in bus accidents while about 800 children, by contrast, die every year walking, biking or being driven to school in cars or other passenger vehicles.
Further, there’s not much proof that safety belts function to prevent injury or death in most accidents. You can read one of those studies, done at the University of Alabama(.pdf), which concluded that installing seat belts would add anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 to the cost of a new bus while having little to no impact on safety.
But, we ask, what is the value of the life of the one child it does save? We say- priceless.
Why is it even a debate?
It is not as easy of a decision as it sounds. Since I was a child, the debate has been ongoing. Even the federal government has looked at the issue. In 2011, the traffic safety administration considered whether seat belts should be required for every school bus. Economists and engineers were brought in to study the issue and write a report. They found that school buses were actually quite safe and regulation requiring seat belts on school buses would very likely lead to more child fatalities each year than the current average of five.
However, much of their findings were based on a concept called “displacement.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It refers to the fact that fewer students can fit on a properly equipped bus. As such, the economists found some students would be forced to walk, ride their bikes, drive in private cars or take additional buses, thus creating more risk. It’s an analysis we find fault with, as we are worried about the students on the bus, not the unforeseen problem of those who now need to find a different ride.
Another issue is enforcement and upkeep. A school, private bus company or district may find itself with additional exposure if it fails to enforce the use of seat belts or fails to keep up with the wear, tear and mischievous things children do to seat belts. Once again, potential problems should not be a reason to abandoned safety measures.
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