School Bus Seat Belts: Opening a Dialogue

Seat Belts on School Buses?

A fatal bus crash in Chatanooga that killed six children has intensified the demand for seat belts on school buses.  This dialogue is similar to the use of various Active Shooter programs after Sandy Hook.  The dialogue is important, but decisions should be made rationally, not in response to the emotions of the tragedy.

So what are the facts about school buses and fatal crashes?

School Bus Safety Facts

According to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), since 1988 there have been over 416,000 fatal crashes in the United States.  1,265 of these involved school buses, or 0.03%. 1,409 people have died in accidents involving school buses, of which 113 were students (8%).  As is seen in the graphic below, 1% of students killed during normal school travel hours were on a school bus, making school buses the safest way to get to school (NHTSA, 2009).

school bus seat belts

School Bus Seat Belts: Pros & Cons

In any rational dialogue on a topic, it is good to consider the pros and cons.

Some good things about seat belts on school buses:

  • Prevents children from being thrown from their seats
  • Teaches children to use seat belts
  • Their use may protect against litigation
  • Can improve student behavior

Some areas of concern:

  • It can cost up to $15,000 to retrofit a school bus with seat belts, including the hardening of seat frames to be able to properly install lap & shoulder belts.
  • Students can, and have, use the belt buckles as weapons.
  • It would be next to impossible to ensure that all students remain properly buckled.
    school bus seat belts

    (Image from

  • After an accident, disoriented and panicked students may find it difficult to get out of their seat belts.
  • The proper use of seat belts requires they be adjusted each time they are used.  This will take additional time.
  • The installation of seat belts will reduce bus capacity, requiring more buses be used to deliver the same number of students.
  • Students who fail to use seat belts properly may be thrown into belted students, creating a double impact.
  • As of yet, there are no federal standards to outline proper installation of seat belts in school buses.

Start the Dialogue

The safety of all children should be the goal of everyone who cares for them, so the ultimate goal is to have zero children killed while in our care.  Therefore, fair consideration should be given to any idea that can improve child safety, including the use of seat belts on school buses.  However, that means considering all the pros and cons.  The ones above are just a start.

Having passion for the care of children is a wonderful thing, but we need to take care to not let that passion cloud our decision-making.  The stakes are too high.

See Something, Say Something

School Terror?

A man in Zion, IL was shot and killed by police after a foot chase and a struggle with police.  The police were called to a school because a man was reportedly photographing the school.  Several nearby schools went into lockdown during the incident.

With everything going on around the world, the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino attack, and a new attempted attack in Paris, it is easy to conclude that this was part of a terror plot.  It is much too soon to make that conclusion, but it serves as a cautionary tale.

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security is frequently telling people, “If you see something, say something.” The incident in Zion, IL is a perfect example of how this works.  Taking pictures of a school is not an illegal act.  However, someone in the neighborhood thought that the way the man was acting, along with the focus of his pictures, was enough to call the police to check him out.

Too often people will think something is odd, and do nothing.  Gavin de Becker, in his excellent book The Gift of Fear, outlines why we do this, and provides useful techniques for training ourselves to get back to trusting our instincts.

People will often not say something out of fear of being wrong.  School administration should empower their staff to report suspicious activity, to activate any safety protocol, and to take personal responsibility for the safety of their students and their school.  If their suspicious are unfounded, there should be no repercussions.  Look at it as a practice for your safety protocols.

see something, say something

The November 2015 issue of School Safety Monthly is on school terrorism

Most states have mandatory reporting laws when a school staff member suspects a child is being abused.  The staff member who sees signs of abuse must report it to the agency tasked with looking into the suspicions.  Are there any repercussions for a staff member whose suspicions are unfounded?  This is no different.  If we are truly about the safety of our children, then we owe it to them to check out our suspicions

If you see something, say something.


New Year for School Safety

Increased Concerns Relating to Terrorism and School Safety


New Years fireworks celebration by Rachel Wilson

2015 has seen a considerable amount of activity in the school safety arena.  The clear indications of increased risk and fear of school-related terrorism have been driving a significant movement for school and public safety officials to re-evaluate their school security strategies. The 2015 terrorist attacks in France and in the United States are causing significant concerns that many school crisis plans are inadequate to address the current threats of terrorism. The variety of terrorist attack methodologies that have been used against schools, school buses and school-related events, makes it imperative that all-hazards planning approaches be utilized. In addition, the wave of threats against school districts just before the holidays has many school and public safety officials on edge.

The Active Shooter Trap

The tendency to overemphasize active shooter in school safety efforts since the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has been pronounced. The highly emotive emphasis on this one deadly, catastrophic but rare form of school violence leaves schools particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack. While we understand the emotional reactions we are seeing to active shooter events, the results they cause are troubling. Our school security assessments for more than 1,000 K12 schools over the past three years have revealed that the majority of K12 schools in 38 states we have assessed have not conducted a shelter in place drill for hazardous materials incidents in recent years.

Of even greater concern is the tendency to try to boil school safety down to an unrealistic level. For example, it has become increasingly common for sheltering for external hazardous materials incidents to be lumped into one protocol with severe weather and earthquake sheltering. This is an incredibly dangerous practice. The actions steps for each of these three very different hazards are different. Creating a single set of action steps for all three different emergencies results in a plan that could easily cause mass casualty loss of life.


What does this mean for school safety?

Recent terrorist attacks have prompted a dramatic surge in requests for school safety assistance. Many school and public safety officials who have contacted us for assistance have concerns that their current approaches are too focused on active shooter incidents. Now is a good time for school and public safety officials to review their school safety plans to see if they address acts of terrorism involving not only firearms but fire, explosives, chemical weapons, biological incidents and other means of attack available to terrorists. Perhaps more importantly, the New Year is a good time to verify that school safety plans address the much more common types of school safety incidents that result in fatalities than those that garner the most media coverage but actually cause far fewer deaths.