I understand both sides of the argument but I’m a firm believer that seatbelts on full-sized school buses are beneficial.  I’m happy that NY has mandated lap belts on all school buses since 1987.  Obviously, I’d be a lot happier with lap/shoulder belts but I’ll take a lap-only belt over no belt any day of the week – even in a full-sized bus.  After more than 20 years, the data from large bus crashes in NY just doesn’t support the theory that lap belts are more likely to cause injuries.  We’re just not seeing this. 

A well-done summary of the pros and cons of seatbelts on full-sized school buses can be found here.  This site is a wealth of info so take your time and look around.  Reasons 4 and 5 listed under “pros” are the two main reasons why I advocate for the usage of seatbelts on school buses.  Plus, how on Earth could I tell my soon-to-be kindergartner NOT to wear his seatbelt?  And how would he react on the first day of school sitting unrestrained for the first time in his life?  He’d probably have a panic attack and start screaming “I’m not buckled” as soon as the bus started to move.   

Keep in mind that whenever you hear “sending your child to school on the bus is 5 billion times safer than driving him/her yourself ” that we’re talking about national averages.  That means lumping me in with drunk drivers, 16-year-old drivers who are texting while driving, unrestrained kids and all the old, deathtrap vehicles on the road.  As Darren pointed out in his blog on school buses - if you looked specifically at the risk factors for MY child, properly restrained and driven to school by ME (or my DH) in MY vehicle and compared it directly to his risk factors riding on a school bus, I’m going to guess that the differences wouldn’t be so great. 

Also, contrary to popular belief, school buses are frequently involved in crashes.  Just google “school bus crash” or do a search on youtube.  And while the full-sized bus “wins” in the vast majority of crashes that doesn’t mean there isn’t any consequence to the occupants inside the bus.  While most school bus related fatalities occur outside the bus (to pedestrians during the loading/unloading process) the overwhelming majority of school bus-related injuries (a much larger number) occur to passengers inside the bus.  As far as I’m concerned, preventing injuries to children riding the bus is important too. 

As I’ve stated before, my youngest will be entering Kindergarten in the fall and we’ve already started talking about bus safety.  I’ve pointed out how the kids wait for the driver to signal before they cross.  How if the driver blows the horn while they’re attempting to cross that means danger and they should quickly go back to the curb.  We’ve also discussed keeping everything inside your backpack so nothing can be accidentally dropped near the bus.  And if something is dropped – don’t ever run back for it.  

I remember how nervous I was about DS1 (now almost 12) riding the bus when he started Kindergarten.  Luckily, we live close to the school and I kept reminding myself that the driver was well trained, the bus always followed a familiar route, it was always daylight, etc.  Unfortunately, out-of-town field trips were a different story and I’ll admit that I was the crazy lady who met the bus at the school parking lot before the children boarded to install a CR (a 5-point Futura) for DS1 that year.  I’ll probably do the same thing for DS2 when the inevitable out-of-town Kindergarten field trip comes around.  My old, trusty Futura is long gone but now I have a SafeGuard Star in my collection of training seats thanks to Sarah G (Smiles365).   Thanks Sarah!      

Now, this whole debate about whether children should use a seatbelt on a large school bus is moot unless you happen to live in one of the few states which require them.  I believe all states require them on smaller buses because those are made more like a van and less like a tank.  Eventually all new smaller buses will have 3-pt lap/shoulder belts but that rule won’t take effect until 2011.  Still, it’s nice to know that some progress is being made in this area even if it only applies to the smaller buses.  

At the very least, it’s always a good idea to teach your kids to stay seated properly, avoid siting at the very edge of the seat (half in the aisle), and avoid sitting in the first and last row of the bus.