New calls for requiring seatbelts on Arizona school buses to save lives

Even though the number of school bus crashes in Arizona is going down, some want new seatbelts put in the buses.
Published: Aug. 23, 2023 at 9:14 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Mesa police are investigating a crash involving multiple vehicles, including a school bus. A 23-year-old woman was killed. No one on the school bus was injured. It comes a day after a child was killed and 23 injured on a school bus crash in Ohio. In both cases, the students weren’t wearing seatbelts. That’s because Arizona’s Family Investigates found they’re not required on school buses in either state.

School buses are considered some of the safest vehicles on the road. They’re actually designed for students not to be wearing seatbelts. Still, some argue seatbelts are another precaution that could help save lives and prevent injuries. “Definitely does not really feel safe, honestly,” Dexhane Gould, a parent, said.

Arizona’s Family Investigates reviewed several videos of school bus crashes, finding without seatbelts, students can be thrown from one side of the vehicle to the other. “It’s very concerning because if they get in an accident, where are the kids going? Out the window, in the hall, the aisles,” Ricarda Aveyeta, a parent, said.

Arizona’s Family Investigates pulled data on school bus crashes in our state for the last seven years, finding a positive trend in recent years. There were 64 of them last year, down from 131 in 2019.

Five years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board changed its recommendation, calling on states to require seatbelts. Arizona still doesn’t. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only nine states do. “The school bus is designed with each seat area compartmentalized. So the child sits in their seat with a high seatback and it’s cushioned in the front and the back,” Dr. Carl Berkowitz, a transportation engineer, said.

That compartmentation, Berkowitz said, provides a protective envelope. That’s done by having energy-absorbing, padded seats close together.

Years back, experts found lap belts could injure children. Berkowitz said the newer seatbelts that include a shoulder restraint are better. Berkowitz said he supports adding seatbelts. “I don’t consider myself smarter than the American Academy of Pediatric Medicine, who’s been advocating it for 30 years and they’ve been studying this,” he explained.

Arizona’s Family Investigates asked if seatbelts had been on that school bus in Ohio if they would have saved lives or prevented injuries. “Well, there couldn’t have been an ejection right,” he responded. Arizona lawmakers have considered requiring seatbelts on school buses several times, but it hasn’t had the support needed to pass.

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