School buses are one of the safest modes of transportation in the United States, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Each year, about 23.5 million children ride buses to and from school.
It’s estimated that each year six children die in bus crashes in the U.S., compared with 2,000 children killed in other auto accidents. While there’s no doubt that seat belts save lives, some may be surprised to learn that school buses rely on other means of keeping passengers safe.
Different Types of School Buses
There are a number of different types of school buses on the road, and the approach to safety varies with the style of bus.
For example, a Type A bus — often called a short bus or mini bus — is one of the smallest buses available. Some Type A buses weigh more than 10,000 pounds, and some weigh less. The weight is important because in 2008, the NHTSA made a rule change that required buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds to have lap-shoulder belts rather than just the lap belt that had been required.
Other, more common buses include the longer Types B, C and D. They’re classified according to factors such as engine and door locations. What they have in common, though, is that they all weigh more than 10,000 pounds, and in every state besides California, they are not required to have seat belts.
While several other states have tried to pass laws requiring seat belts, the measures have failed, mostly due to the price tag. However, you may be surprised to learn that there is another way of keeping kids safe while riding a school bus.
Seat Belts Versus Compartmentalization
Because of their weight, when larger buses are involved in accidents, the crash force is lower and is distributed differently than in accidents involving passenger cars, vans, and light trucks.
The NHTSA noted that the best way to ensure the safety of passengers of larger school buses is through compartmentalization. This concept relies on:
- Narrow row spacing
- High, well-padded seatbacks
- Flexible seatbacks that absorb energy when a passenger is thrown forward
In effect, these three things put passengers in a “cocoon,” or small, well-padded compartment. In case of an accident, students are just as protected — if not more — than if he or she were wearing a seat belt.
Safety Starts Before Boarding
Whether your child rides in a smaller or larger school bus, safety starts before the bus arrives at the curb. Before a child gets on the bus for the first time, parents should go to the stop and explain some safety rules, including:
- Standing three giant steps away from the curb
- No playing or running near a bus stop
- Never walking behind a school bus
- Never crossing the street immediately after leaving the bus
Instead of crossing right away, a child should walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street at least five giant steps in front of the bus and then stop. The child should make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing.