People in Southeast Massachusetts are taking a fresh look at the safety of school buses, as students in Berkley, Massachusetts were seriously injured in a recent bus crash. Unfortunately, we learned once again that all people within vehicles are in some danger, as the Berkley bus was apparently hit by a drunk driver. Students suffered a variety of injuries, some as serious as a crushed vertebrae and blood in the lungs. According to prosecutors, the drunk driver hit another vehicle, spun in front of the bus, and forced the bus driver off the road. While there has been no suggestion that the bus driver did anything wrong, it is never a bad time to look at ensuring our children are safe going back and forth to school.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road.” That may be, but one topic that is frequently discussed for bus safety is availability and use of seat belts. It is unclear whether seat belts were used by any of the students on the bus, or whether they were even available. While both lap and shoulder seat belts are widely available, only six states require them on school buses. Massachusetts is not one of those states. Large school buses, such as the one involved in the accident, are “heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passengers cars,” according to NHTSA. As a result, the NHTSA focuses upon “compartmentalization,” which offers protection through closely-packed seats and energy-absorbing seat backs, and is supposed to protect school children without utilizing seat belts.
The issue of safety restraints on buses has been addressed in the past, even as recently as earlier this year. In May of 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation that all states update seat belt policies. While the accident is currently being viewed as the fault of the drunk driver, the lack of seatbelts, or the choice to not use them, could still impact child safety.