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Would School Buses Be Safer With Seat Belts?

The NHTSA, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency within the Department of Transportation, is calling for seat belts on school buses. Surprisingly, in the administration's 45-year history, this has never occurred before.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind acknowledged last month that the agency has not always been clear on its stance concerning seat belts on school buses.

Unbelievably, NHTSA's prior position regarding school buses and seat belts was that changes would too costly and that buses were safe without seat belts.

Rosekind said the position of the NHTSA is that seat belts save lives, and this is true no matter the type of motor vehicle. NHTSA's new policy is that every child on every school bus should have a seat belt that attaches at three points.

Rosekind also said that this initial step in the rulemaking process could prove challenging and that he expects some pushback.

Some agencies are disagreeing with this new policy. For example, The National Association for Pupil Transportation thought that local regulators, not the federal government, should oversee such matters. The organization said in a statement that states and local school districts are better able to recognize school transportation risks specific to their areas and identify approaches to best reduce those safety risks.

The NHTSA says the change is necessary to help keep students safe and to be more consistent in messaging about seat belt safety. Rosekind said the position change is consistent with NHTSA's role as the guardian of safety on America's roads.

Public opinion on seat belts in school buses appears to be sharply divided. The results of an online poll conducted by the National Education Association found that 53 percent of respondents favored seat belts, while 47 percent were opposed.

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