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School Bus Safety: Use of Seat Belts Controversial

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "school buses are the safest motor vehicles on the highways."  On average, however, approximately 27 children die in school bus accidents each year.  Federal law does not require school buses to be equipped with seat belts.  Although some states have made seat belts mandatory, South Carolina has no such requirement. 

The NHTSA contends that adequate protection is provided by the seat design.  The seats have high backs and are spaced close together, creating a compartment that protects passengers in a collision. Seat belts, officials say, limit the number of kids who can squeeze into a bus seat. That might mean some schools would have to buy more buses, or else tell kids to find another way to school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, wants to see three-point safety belts in every school bus, a position it has held since 1996. "We are still in favor of that," says Denise Dowd, MD, a member of the academy's Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention and chief of the section of injury prevention at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Dowd says too little is known about injuries to conclude that buses are safe enough without seat belts. "There's not any good tracking system or accumulation of data for nonfatal injuries that you can tie directly to school buses."

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