How Safe is Your Child's Ride to School?

The NBC10 Investigators go undercover to see if students are wearing their seat belts on the school bus

By Jennifer Balatinos and Harry Hairston
|  Thursday, May 17, 2012  |  Updated 12:09 PM EDT
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School bus accidents are frightening news for any parent. This year alone NBC10 has reported several accidents in our area, one of them deadly. Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators decided to take a closer look at what's being done to keep our children safe.

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School bus accidents are frightening news for any parent. This year alone NBC10 has reported several accidents in our area, one of them deadly. Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators decided to take a closer look at what's being done to keep our children safe.

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Chances are your kids ride a school bus every day, but how safe are they? Recently, there have been a number of school bus accidents in our area. Some of these accidents resulted in serious injuries and one case even a death.

This past February in Chesterfield, New Jersey, there was a school bus collision with a large dump truck. 17 students were injured and one was killed. The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] is investigating. One of the things they are likely to look at is the use of seat belts in the school bus and what affect they had.

New Jersey is one of six states that require seat belts on large school buses. Some groups like the National Coalition For School Bus Safety believe seat belts should be on school buses.

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“Seat belts are valuable in accidents in saving lives under one important consideration and that consideration is that they have to be used” said Art Yeager, Vice President of the group.

Other groups believe school buses are designed to be safe without seat belts. Some believe that in some accidents, seat belts would not make a difference. Blake Krapf, a board member of the National School Transportation Association says in the case of the Chesterfield accident, “It was a high impact crash involving a dump truck and a school bus with two very large heavy vehicles and it doesn’t appear as though a seatbelt would have made a difference because of the high impact.”

But even when there are seat belts on school buses, how safe are they? Take a look at the video below of an actual accident from inside a Buffalo School District bus. Watch closely at the point of impact. The bus aide is not strapped in and appears to get knocked from one side of the bus to the other. The students strapped in with lap and should restraints barely move.

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The NBC10 Investigators wanted to find out if kids in New Jersey who are riding buses equipped with seat belts are using them. Harry Hairston went out with a surveillance vehicle and captured case after case on school buses where students were jumping from seat to seat. Hairston even documented seat belts draped over the back of seats. When Hairston contacted the school district and they said that their drivers are instructed to remind students to wear their seat belts and even to pull over if the kids aren’t wearing them. (Click here to see entire statement).

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David Dargay of Freehold, New Jersey got a bloody nose when his school bus jumped a curb and rammed into a tree. David was not wearing his seat belt and in fact told Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators that hardly anyone on his bus wears seat belts. Dargay’s mom, Stacey, says that her son must have hit the back of the seat and that is how he got his bloody nose.

Experts say if you want to get seat belts on your child’s bus and get involved with your local school board, you can make it happen. But some industry experts warn adding sea tbelts to school buses and hiring aids to enforce them is costly. Some critics also point out that seat belts mean fewer students can sit in a seat, forcing schools to buy more buses or parents to drive their children to school.

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