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.

Beyond the Headlines – Free School Security Webinar

Dr. Sony Shepard pictured using our assessment tool on her Ipad. Photo by Rachel Wilson

Dr. Sony Shepard pictured using our assessment tool on her Ipad. Photo by Rachel Wilson

Requests for School Security Assessments Increasing Again

Unfortunately, I have not had much time to blog for the past couple of months due to an intensive workload and travel schedule. As is typically the case each fall, we have been extremely busy with school security assessments and conference keynotes. Unfortunately, this pace will continue through at least the end of February as we have seen another surge in requests for school security assessments, particularly from independent schools. We also have ten analysts who are working tirelessly on a detailed review of an active shooter incident. This project is consuming massive amounts of time. Though we have a number of critical deadlines for major projects coming up I will make every effort to continue to post helpful blogs as usual.

School Security Webinar

I had the pleasure of delivering a unique web presentation earlier this week. Sponsored by Tyco Integrated Security, this seminar focused on how school officials can look beyond the media headlines to integrate human performance with school safety technology. With more than 120 attendees from across the nation and as far away as Peru, the seminar was well attended with almost every participant staying on live until the end. We had some excellent questions from participants. I asked Tyco Integrated Security if Safe Havens could make the webinar available to our readers for free and they agreed.

Free School Security Webinar and other Free Resources

If you would like to hear the archived version, please visit:

We hope that this webinar will be helpful to you in your efforts to make your schools even safer. If you have not done so already, please sign up for our free newsletter – School Safety Monthly. We routinely announce other free resources via the newsletter. Safe Havens is typically working on several significant free school security resources at any time and we will soon be releasing a new guide on school security technology for the Indiana Department of Education.

Conducting a school emergency communications survey

Internal public address for school emergency communications

Internal and external public address systems can be among the most effective means of school emergency communications. Periodic testing of these systems can be important.


School emergency communications is important

Regardless of the type of school emergency, the ability of staff to communicate can be a life and death matter. Today, there are often numerous options for school emergency communication.

All of these approaches have two things in common:

  1. They require humans to take some form of action.
  2. They have the potential for failure.

As almost any option for emergency communications can quickly become a life-saving capability, it is important to develop an approach to periodically test each option. There are a variety of ways to test specific systems, but I thought it would be helpful to provide some examples of how to test two of the most basic and important systems schools for a wide array of school emergencies: internal and external public address systems. While there are a number of excellent emergency communications alternatives, these two options are often still the fastest and most reliable way to communicate the need for students and staff to implement emergency protective actions such as lockdown and severe weather sheltering.

Testing emergency communications for internal public address

As a primary means of emergency communications for most K12 schools, it can be important to test the reliability of internal public address systems. When we assess schools, our analysts interview personnel in various parts of each building to see if they can not only hear, but just as importantly, understand announcements. We also suggest that our clients conduct an internal public address survey annually for each school. This can be done with a simple test announcement which instructs staff to email a contact point to let them know if they did or did not understand the test announcement. Of course, it is important to look at the responses to see if any areas with internal public address did not respond at all. Pay particular attention to gymnasiums, pool areas, kitchens, cafeterias, weight rooms, vocational shops, and other areas where noisy conditions often exist.

Testing emergency communications for external public address

One of the best emergency communications systems from a cost/benefit ration perspective, schools that have reliable external public address capability can warn students and staff who are in outdoor areas much more quickly and often more accurately than schools that either lack this capability or that attempt to use automated warning systems. To test external public address capability, we suggest that staff be surveyed to ask if they have noticed any outdoor areas where they have experienced problems hearing and understanding announcements.   In addition, it is a good idea to position personnel in specific critical areas such as bus and parent loading and unloading areas, playgrounds, and athletic fields to see how clearly they can hear a test announcement.

Take appropriate corrective action

This type of testing will often reveal the need for adjustments to equipment or in some cases the need for additional speakers. It is important to follow through when concerns are identified. Sometimes it may not be feasible to correct problems with older systems. If this is the case, thoughtful alternative communications approaches should be developed to address the concern.

Many of our clients have dramatically improved their ability to communicate in an emergency by conducting these types of tests and taking corrective action. Take the time to test the approaches you rely on to warn people of danger – lives may someday depend on it.