Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Like a lot of people in the country, I've been doing a bit of reading and learning about school buses. There is a lot of discussion about seat belts. Today's Irish Examiner has an editorial in which the paper calls for seat belts on school buses and the Irish Times (sub. required) has a column by the paper's health correspondent, Eithne Donnellan, in which she discusses some of the arguments against seat belts.

Donnellan cites Canadian studies (a lot can be found on the Canadian government's web site) that indicate that seat belts can cause injuries and that the safety benefit of seat belts has not been proven. That may well be true, but there also seems to be some negligence with regards to testing as most tests are for front-end collisions, not side impact or rollovers (which is what happened on Monday).

Regardless, the arguments about seat belts from N. America are irrelevant in Ireland. What's missing is any discussion of compartmentalization. I don't know why this topic is being neglected in the press, possibly because nobody who's ever ridden an American-style school bus is helping out.
Compartmentalization is the name for the protective envelope created by strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing high seat backs that protect occupants in the event of a crash.
I remember in the 1970's when my school introduced these changes. We went from being able to talk to kids in front or behind us to isolation in our own seat. You couldn't see up the front or down the back without leaning into the aisle.

There are also added safety features on school buses.
School buses also have other features that contribute to the high level of safety they provide each occupant. Features such as emergency exits, roof structure, fuel systems, and body joint strength make the bus stronger, larger, heavier, and safer than most other vehicles on the road today.
Adding seat belts may or may not be the answer, but if money really shouldn't be the deciding factor (I've heard that a few times) then we should consider an actual dedicated school bus fleet. Buses designed to keep children safe. The history of school bus safety in America is probably a good place to start this transformation.