, Salem, MA

February 21, 2014

Letter: School buses should have seat belts

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Beginning in the ’60s, vehicles were equipped with a new safety device, seat belts. Researchers at UCLA, using the term “compartmentalization,” determined that despite children being thrown around the compartment of a school bus, the design and material of the seats would absorb the force of the crash and protect the children. Some 50 years later, millions of school students board buses each school day without any type of seat restraint.

In November 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a rule requiring lap or shoulder belts for each passenger and driver on large school buses. According to its report, there are 7,900 crash-related injuries in reference to motor coaches and large school buses. Currently, only six states comply with this ruling. It has been proven on millions of occasions that seat belts reduce the loss of life and injury. Massachusetts highways have signs emphasizing the need to buckle up. This state has seen many legislators throughout the years propose various bills relating to this serious problem. Their time and effort have gone no further than Beacon Hill’s Ways And Means Committee. The American Academy for Pediatrics’ annual estimate of school bus-related injuries is 51,000. Is Beacon Hill reluctant to pass any type of bill that would enhance the safety of our children on buses, until a catastrophic event occurs, similar to the deadly crash that took the lives of four students from Newton while on a field trip?

Regardless of the additional costs involved, it’s the best insurance policy the state could have. If these four new bills currently being addressed fail, three communities in Massachusetts have not waited for Beacon Hill to act. Waltham, Newton and Marblehead have independently chosen to initiate their own seat belt regulations. Over 10 years ago, the town of Marblehead had their buses retrofitted with belt restraints. There are companies throughout this state that specialize in seat belt installations on new and used school buses. In my opinion, cities and towns must wait no longer. Your investment in creating a safer environment for our school bus students will pay dividends.

Massachusetts has an opportunity to join with New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Florida and Louisiana in sending a message to the remaining states, the safety and well-being of our children is foremost.

Nicholas J. Daley