“I think seat belts should be required on school buses for field trips and for the children that ride to and from school everyday for their safety,” Albright said. “They would have to wear a seat belt when they are in a car.”
A deadly school bus crash in Carroll County has some people questioning why Georgia does not require school buses to have seat belts, but there is no consensus on their effectiveness or whether the use of seat belts on buses can be enforced.
The Carrollton city school system equips its buses with seat belts, but leaves it up to the students to decide whether to buckle up.
“I think seat belts always help,” said Steve Spofford, chief operating officer for Carrollton City Schools. “The difficulty when it comes to using seat belts on buses is enforcement. The book is still out on whether or not seat belts help or hinder in accidents or any kind of injuries on a bus.”
Until there is more definitive research done on the effectiveness of seat belts on school buses, the school system is encouraging but not requiring students to wear seat belts. Enforcement is also an issue.
“There’s a bus driver on board,” Spofford said. “His back is to the students. The backs of the seat are rather high and you can only see the people who are sitting right behind you, so a student could be sitting in their seat without having a harness on them. If it’s a lap seat belt they wouldn’t know if a student had it on or not. You can’t have a bus driver continually stopping the bus because it would be a safety issue. It is a difficult situation, which is why I think there are so many systems that took the approach we did. We’ll have the belts on there, some will fasten it out of habit and others will ignore it.”
It cost the school system about $180 per seat to install lap belts.
“We thought it was worth the cost because we want to give parents and students an option,” Spofford said. “Because it’s still unclear whether or not seat belts are an advantage or disadvantage, we want to inform the parents and let them make a choice on whether or not they want to let their children use the belts or not.”
It may never be known if a seat belt could have prevented the death of James Rashaun Walker, 17, of Temple, who died when a bus transporting Temple High School students overturned on Highway 113 near Sharp Creek Elementary School Monday afternoon.
“Our thoughts go out to the families of those involved and our colleagues in other school systems,” Spofford said.
While the city school system provides lap belts on all of its 34 buses, transportation director Skip Veljkov would like each bus to be equipped with three-point lap-shoulder belts. It would cost the school system between $300 to $400 per seat to equip buses with lap-shoulder belts.
“There is a lot of controversy whether lap [only] belts are safe for little kids,” Veljkov said. But he believes they are better than no restraint at all.
“Seat belts would definitely help in a case when the bus flipped over,” Veljkov said.
Despite the recent tragedy, he pointed out that buses are the safest vehicle anyone could ride in and seat belts can help make a student’s ride even safer.
“I still believe school buses are the safest possible vehicle you can use,” Veljkov said. “”I would encourage parents to encourage their kids to use seat belts in any vehicle they are in.”
But he acknowledges that it can be hard to convince them to wear a restraint, especially if they are peer-pressured into not buckling up.
“Kids just don’t want to put them on,” Veljkov said. “They want to move around, go see their friends and jump from seat to seat.”
But he is optimistic that the school system will get students to wear the belts through bus safety education efforts. He believes something positive needs to come from Monday’s tragic accident and feels more training on how to properly ride in a bus and evacuation drills will help.
Although he is not sure if a seat belt would have saved Walker’s life, he feels it would have been a positive addition.
“It was a tragedy and it affects our counties as well as our drivers or anyone in the state the operates a yellow bus,” Veljkov said. “It is a terrible thing. We try our best to stay as safe as possible. Anytime this happens, the positive thing is that drivers hunker down and get more in tune to the safety of transporting their children. They get a little more into the training of children on the proper way to ride. That’s the positive thing we are going to take from the negative.”
Jennifer Gross, 19, graduated from Villa Rica High School last year and believes seat belts would have been a welcome addition when she rode the bus as a young student.
“We should have had seat belts because there was a lot of kids who were really small and fell out the seats and into the aisle,” Gross said. “I was one of those kids. The bus driver gets one, why can’t we get one?”
Dawsonville resident Barbara Garrett, who was visiting her grandchildren in Carrollton on Thursday, believes all counties should require seat belts for students.
Peter Kelley of Carrollton believes seat belts would help keep order on the bus, but feels buses are relatively safe without the restraints. But he did say that a seat belt would keep children from being thrown around if the bus is hit by a car.
“School buses are very sturdy,” Kelley said. “If a regular car hits them, the kids are going to be jolted a little bit, but nothing will happen that’s going to throw them out of their seats unless something bad happens. If something happens, like a semi-truck or another bus collided, that’s really going to cause injuries regardless of seat belts.”
Rosa Parmentier of Temple believe children who ride school buses should be sitting down while the bus is moving and feels seat belts will help make sure they remain seated.
“We have to wear seat belts so why should students not be safe with seat belts?” Parmentier asked.