Posted in Bus Accidents on March 20, 2018
Seat belts on buses are not always a safe option, and not every jurisdiction requires them. There are also specific laws concerning school buses, public transportation, and common carriers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the Department of Transportation, requires seat belts for every seat in buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds. The federal government does not have any clear laws concerning seat belts for larger buses. The Georgia Department of Public Health recommends that all children age five or younger should wear seatbelts if available.
Georgia law has no stipulation for seat belts on buses weighing more than 10,000 pounds due to a preponderance of existing safety features. Statistically, school buses are seven times safer than typical passenger vehicles in the event of a crash. Bus accidents do unfortunately still occur in Georgia, like the recent incident in Dekalb that resulted in the injury of 3 students. The bench-style seats on a typical Georgia school bus create a compartmentalization effect in the event of a crash. Essentially, these seats absorb most of the force present in a crash, reducing the impact force on students. Most fatalities resulting from bus crashes occur outside the vehicles.
Another safety feature built into most school buses is the elevated position of the seats. In the event of a rear-end collision, a car behind the bus is likely to hit below the seats instead of directly impacting them. This is not true for city buses that typically have very low floors to allow for easier entry and exit for elderly or disabled passengers.
Public buses and trains are staples of the transportation network, and many riders may wonder why some of these vehicles, particularly trains, do not have seat belts. Studies have shown that seat belts in many accident scenarios would actually cause more harm than good. For example, seat belts require hard-backed chairs, and installing these in trains would lock passengers in place in the event of an accident. A “structural intrusion,” or a piece of debris or anything else that protrudes into the cabin space of a train, can cause significant damage to passengers who cannot get out of the way because of seat belts. Additionally, lap belts statistically cause more spinal injuries.
Buses that transport passengers between different cities must have shoulder and lap belts for every seat installed by the end of 2016, according to a NHTSA law enacted in 2013. This rule also applies to tour buses and long-distance transportation services that run across the country. Ultimately, the main reason that many large buses do not require seat belts is because the chances of an accident occurring involving one of these vehicles is much lower than standard passenger vehicles, and these large buses are structurally safer than smaller passenger vehicles.
There are some drawbacks to the design of many public transportation buses, however. The lower floors make the passengers in the back of the bus more susceptible to rear-end collisions. Buses with transverse seats, or seats that sit parallel to the sides of the bus, do not produce any compartmentalization effect. However, the chances of suffering a severe injury on a public transportation bus is very low due to the fact that most of these vehicles rarely travel faster than 35 mph.
Installing seat belts on every bus would be a major financial burden for minimal payoff, according to experts who have studied the safety of school buses and public transportation buses. The cost of each bus would increase between $8,000 and $15,000. Considering the size of most Georgia bus fleets, this would be an astronomical expense that would in some ways make the buses more dangerous.
If you or a loved one was injured in a collision with a bus or large vehicle, contact the Atlanta bus accident attorneys at Butler Prather LLP today! Call us at (404) 321-1700.