Virginia County Cannot Make Kids Wear Seat Belts on School Buses

Loudoun County, Virginia is considering the cancellation of seat belt installations in its school buses after a four-year effort to improve student safety. Kids refuse to wear seat belts while riding the bus, and some are arguing that trying to make them do so is an expensive and unwinnable battle.

The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both endorsed seat belts on school buses, and many school districts predicted that the federal government would start mandating the safety equipment. Anticipating such a mandate, Loudoun County began installing safety belts in 2008. Four years later, the mandate has yet to arrive.

“When you talk to the bus drivers who are there day in and day out, they’ll tell you the kids do not wear the seat belts,” says School Board Member Thomas Reed. “Getting them to wear them on those buses is nearly impossible.”

It costs the county $9,000 per bus to install seat belts. If the program is halted, it should save the county nearly $600,000 next year.

“Our staff is committed to our students’ safety. If they felt it was worthwhile or was enforceable, they would definitely push back,’ says Reed, who stresses that the National Highway Transportation Safety Board (NHTSB) finds no appreciable advantage in having seatbelts on regular school buses.

The seemingly contrary recommendations from the medical community and the NHTSB do not make this an easy issue to decide on. If school officials could find a way to make kids wear the seat belts, would it be worth the effort?

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