PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For the first time, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is supporting the use of seat belts on school buses.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind made the declaration Sunday, stopping short of recommending seat belts be required.
Until now, the agency’s stance was that the design of bus seats on large school buses, known as “compartmentalization,” protects kids, rendering seat belts unnecessary.
“We were very excited to hear that,” said Rep. Bobby Nardolillo (R-Coventry).
Nardolillo has been working on requiring seat belts on Rhode Island school buses. He introduced a bill this past session and says he will do so again next year.
“This is common sense legislation,” Nardolillo said. “I turn to my children and I say ‘put your seat belts on.’ We drive to the bus stop, their seat belts are on. They get out of my car, they get on to the school bus, there’s no seat belts. It’s a free-for-all.”
According to the most recent report from NHTSA on school bus crashes in Rhode Island, there was an average of 208 accidents per year involving school buses from 2008-2012. During those five years, there were five serious injuries and one fatality.
The report, published in 2014, says school bus crashes are a “very rare occurrence” in Rhode Island.
That low fatality rate across the country was part of NHTSA’s argument that buckling up wasn’t necessary on a school bus. Now, Rosekind says seat belts would make buses even safer.
Some school bus drivers and monitors disagreed.
“As long as you’re sitting in your seat right, you’re not going to get hurt,” said Richard Wilson, a bus aide who also drove a bus for 23 years.
He told Eyewitness News it would be difficult to get the kids to buckle up, and even more difficult to get them out of their seat belts in case of an emergency.
“I’d be very afraid about having to getting the children out if there was a fire,” said Christine Shackleton, also a school bus aide. “You have two and half minutes to clear that bus. You have two emergency exits. You’re not going to get them out.”
Currently in Rhode Island, only buses that transport students with disabilities are required to have seat belts.