Why don’t school buses have seatbelts?

It’s a question many parents in Muskoka ask as they send their kids to school each day. It turns out the need for seatbelts was ruled out based on a 1984 bus crash test by Transport Canada that backs the theory of compartmentalization. Using the analogy of eggs in an egg crate, it was determined kids are safe in typical front and rear-end collisions.

But a report on CBC’s The Fifth Estate has revealed a second Transport Canada crash test conducted in 2010. It showed that side impact bus crashes and rollovers would end up having fewer injuries if students were belted in.  The results of that test were never made public.

Scott Hammond, the Director of Operations for Hammond Transportation, a provider of school bus services in Muskoka, is all for a new look at bus safety.

“Hammond Transportation’s position is student safety is a number one priority,” said Hammond. “Anything that can change in the industry that makes it safer for kids is fine by us.“ My Muskoka News also contacted Campbell Bus Lines for comment on this story, but owner Dean Campbell was not available.

For 34 years Transport Canada has maintained its position that seatbelts are not needed, but following the CBC report, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau just yesterday said there will be a review of the policy. 

According to the CBC report, if companies needed to retrofit fleets, there would be an approximate cost of $10,000 per bus. That works out to roughly $25 per child per year. It is unclear who would bear the cost of such an equipment upgrade.

A number of US states have adopted the use of seatbelts in the past decade. No province in Canada requires seatbelts, though most school buses in the first couple of rows provide lap belts for smaller students. One argument against lap belts is in the case of evacuations on train tracks or if the bus ended up under water. In those situations, it may take too long to get kids unbelted.

Hammond meanwhile says he welcomes a second look by Transport Canada. “It needs to be explored, not just that seatbelts are a better situation,”  he says. “It has to be vetted out that it is the best for kids.”

Just recently a school bus was hit in a side impact crash in Innisfil. Two students suffered broken bones after the bus tipped over and a third student was airlifted with a neck injury.

Despite the question surrounding seat belts, Greg Hammond, Treasurer of Hammond Transportation says, “Our position is that school buses are the safest vehicles on the road, that children are 17 times safer in the school bus than in their parent’s car and that we support any government initiative to make school bus transportation safer.”