National Child Passenger Safety Week

click to see a larger viewThe fact is undisputable: seat belts reduce injuries and save lives. From the first day our children are brought home from the hospital, we buckle them up. Yet, when they step onto the school bus for that first day of school… it’s typically the first time in their lives that they do not buckle up in a moving vehicle. It’s not because they are refusing to do so. The problem is most aren’t even given the choice.

What message is this sending to our kids? And why do so many people who believe children should be buckled up in a car feel differently about the school bus? In honor of Child Passenger Safety Week, we think it’s time to take a closer look at the issue.

If we want to promote a lifelong habit of buckling up, the mindset against seat belts on school buses has to change. The fact is, the reason so many parents and transportation officials resist installing lap-shoulder belts on school buses is because they are dissuaded by a frightening amount of misinformation. When they learn the facts, they’ll see there are NO MORE EXCUSES™ for leaving such a life-saving behavioral tool off our children’s school buses.

At IMMI®, we’ve heard the argument that lap-shoulder belts will slow down evacuations should the bus roll over. They don’t. An uninjured, conscious child can evacuate much faster than a child who has been injured or knocked unconscious by being tossed around the inside of the bus like clothes in a dryer. You can see from these videos what happens to the unbuckled passengers for yourself.

In a rollover, our seat belts work just like the ones in your car. A student simply has to push the button to release himself and exit the vehicle. Any bottlenecks during evacuations happen at the exits where children must wait to evacuate the vehicle single-file.

You’ve probably heard that school buses are safe enough without seat belts. At IMMI, we disagree. While compartmentalization (keeping children inside a “compartment” between two high backed seats) may keep them from more serious injuries in frontal and rear crashes, it offers no protection in side impacts or rollovers. Not only that, but even a sudden stop sends children face first into the seat in front of them (assuming they are seated correctly). Is compartmentalization really good enough when children can sustain bumps, bruises, broken bones, and concussions from being tossed around the compartment designed to protect them? Perhaps these injuries are survivable, but with students in lap-shoulder belts, many of these injuries can be completely avoidable.

Another popular excuse against seat belts is that they will be used as weapons. Lap-shoulder belts retract into the seat and have a lightweight tongue, making them very difficult to swing at another student. IMMI’s SafeGuard® brand has been making lap-shoulder belts for school buses for more than a decade, and during that time we haven’t received a single report of them being used as a weapon.

Then there is the cost. First off, installing lap-shoulder belts on school buses does NOT reduce capacity requiring districts to purchase more school buses. Secondly, when you break down student usage over a five year period, the cost of installing lap shoulder belts is about 10 cents. Isn’t it worth 10 cents per student usage to better protect our children on the school bus?

Finally, when it comes to bullying and bad behavior on the bus, it’s worth noting that lap-shoulder belts have proven to dramatically improve discipline in districts that enforce their use. Districts with an enforced usage policy have been wowed by the improved behavior, reduced bullying, and lack of injuries in even minor accidents. Bus drivers have told us they are less distracted and enjoy their jobs more when they have the effective combination of lap-shoulder belts and the authority to enforce their use.

There are no more excuses for keeping SafeGuard lap-shoulder belts off school buses. As we raise awareness this week for buckling up our children in the right seat at the right time, let’s not forget the one place many of our children aren’t being buckled up at all. It’s time to change that. It’s time for SafeGuard, by IMMI.

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