The conspicuous absence of seat belt requirements in federal laws governing safety on school buses has been the subject of intense debate for decades. Why, if seatbelts are mandatory on passenger vehicles, are they not mandatory on vehicles which collectively transport millions of children to and from school every day? Given the lifesaving ability of seatbelts, proven in study after study, one would think that school buses should be equipped with safety belts for all children.
Instead of seat belts, school buses rely on a different safety feature known as compartmentalization. Unlike seatbelts, which are, in a sense, “extra" fixtures attached to a vehicle, compartmentalization is something that is built into the very design of school buses. The goal is to secure passengers in padded, shock-absorbent compartments which protect them in case of a collision and replace the need for traditional seat belts, which children are unlikely to wear correctly.
The Egg Carton
Compartmentalized buses are designed to protect passengers in the same way that a carton protects the eggs inside. The seats on a school bus are designed with padded, flexible, shock-absorbent backs which are tall enough to stop children from flying out of the compartment. These seats are made in accordance with strict federal guidelines, which regulate everything from the force they must withstand to the floor that they are attached to.
If a school bus is ever involved in a collision, children will be caught by these reinforced and padded seat backs, which, ideally, will absorb enough of the impact to prevent injury.
Does Compartmentalization Work?
Supporters of current school bus safety regulations (i. e. , ones based on compartmentalization) point to the exceptionally low rate of injuries and fatalities on school buses, when compared to other passenger vehicles, as good evidence of the effectiveness of compartmentalized design.
However, as opponents point out, a correlation such as this is not proof of causality. That is, just because a compartmentalized school bus system displays a low injury rate does not mean that the compartmentalized design was responsible for its safety record. Furthermore, even government entities such as the National Transportation Safety Board have noted the ineffectiveness of compartmentalization in dealing with lateral impacts.
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