Florida school buses required to have seat belts, but do kids use them?

School bus seat belt safety debate resumes

By Melodi Smith - Multimedia Journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - On Monday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a school bus carrying elementary students was involved in an accident leaving five children dead and a dozen injured.

The driver of the bus, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, has been arrested and charged in the crash.

Tennessee does not have any statewide law regarding school bus seat belt safety, but Florida does. The Sunshine State is just one of a handful of states that have enacted seat belt regulations; there are 44 others with no regulations at all.

[Read more here: Do seat belts make school buses safer?]

According to Florida statute, each passenger on a school bus must, "wear a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt at all times while the bus is in operation."

But enforcement of the law is another issue, experts say.

On the Books for Almost 15 Years

Florida law states that school buses purchased after Dec. 31, 2000, are required to have safety belts or some sort of restraint system.

Any buses purchased before that time are not required to have seat belts.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida, California, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas are the only states with some type of school seat belt safety law.

But those laws don’t outline what kind of seat belts school buses should have.

In 2015, Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, publicly recommended that all school buses should have a three-point harness instead of a simple lap belt.

"Seat belts will save the lives of children who we might otherwise lose in crashes. Seat belts provide the safety those kids deserve," said Rosekind. "So NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt," he added.

Of the six states have school bus laws only one state is meeting up to the standard of having this three-point harness in place: California.

What would it take to update a typical school bus that does not have three-point harness? One March 2016 NHTSA report to Congress placed that cost at thousands of dollars.

"We estimated a low installation cost of $14,650, based on the assumption that the most recent buses can be retrofitted with new seats with lap/shoulder belts and no new structure," the report said. 

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