Thursday, July 21, 2011

glacial movement of a good idea

For these past few weeks of summer I have set my day in motion by driving my eight year old son to a wonderful day camp. The children that attend enjoy the benefits of an indoor and an outdoor pool. They are engaged with soccer, volley ball, kickball, wall climbing, zip lines, horse-back riding, crafts, wooded trails, a great staff and a mixed bag of other interests. The route takes me about half an hour out of my way in the morning. This is his third season, and on and off, I have considered saving time and spending the extra money to sign him up for the available transport. But as we bond a bit, sing some tunes and connect through some childish humor on our ride each sunup, it becomes clear it is not about the time or the money.

Each day an intermittent caravan of school buses surround my sedan as we trek. Most of the buses are of the short bus type, which can hold about 20 children. When stopped at a traffic signal I can look and see that none of the campers are in seatbelts. A few days ago I was driving on a six lane roadway in the late afternoon, far away from my son’s camp. A school bus of the long type, holding about 60 children, passed me on the right. Again, there was no indication of seatbelts. And, seemingly, all of the children were standing. Many of the children had poked their heads out of the bus windows, as they screeched silly heckles toward the cars below, while the bus zoomed away.

The silliness I get. The big picture-I simply don’t get. Is this the epitome of oversight, the foundation of negligence or the exemplar of stupidity?

We have gone to great lengths trying to protect people and improve vehicular safety. Seat belts, car seats, booster seats, air bags, anti-lock brakes, stability control systems and early warning systems.

Even back in the 80s, when the first genuine push towards wearing seat belts became popular, the public service commercials featuring Vince and Larry often careening through windshields were clear: ‘You could learn a lot from a dummy’. The correlation that people were supposed to make is that heads, torsos, knees, backs and other body parts don’t necessarily have to be tossed around at high speed in an accident.

But fast forward all the way to July 2011. The seatbelt laws in NYS seem to me to be as confusing as they are reckless. While riding in the front seat of a car, both driver and passenger must wear a seatbelt. No one in the front seat is allowed to stand, move around or willfully risk the head cracking scenario. Yet if any folks beyond 16 years of age are traveling in the rear seat of a car driven by an operator holding a Class-D license (for persons over age 18), they are permitted to act like dummies. To smarten up the law though, if the driver holds only a Class-DJ license (for persons under age 18), then nobody in the front or rear of the vehicle is permitted to wager on the willfully ignorant body tossing.

Regarding buses, any large type school bus built after July 1, 1987 must have seatbelts. In both the long and short variety of school buses, the bus drivers are forbidden to go beltless. But common sense ends there. Short buses don’t need seatbelts. I suppose they should be retrofitted with bumper stickers that read: ‘Sit back, relax, and screw yourself into the seat just before impact.’ And no matter when the bus was built, or the size category, each school district can set its own policy over whether or not the kids are allowed to increase the risk of knocking noggins at high speed. Oddly enough though, it seems that many districts choose to roll the dice.

Do you plan to travel in a passenger bus, taxi or a car made prior to 1964? I will save you time-as I looked it up. Crack. Crash. C-r-a-a-a-a-c-k!

Now think of all the money spent over this period on school budgets, state traffic laws, and advances in restraint systems. Yet every day, in New York State, a disgracefully large number of children wear no seatbelts when traveling to and from schools and camps.

Yup, as I said….it’s not about the time or the money. It’s about cutting class. The first and last lessons each day are truly insane.

© 2011 Christopher’s Views


  1. Silly when you look closely at our ways!

    Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral


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  2. I do have to agree with Cloudia! Great post for the day and it's always good to see you online, Christopher! Hope all is going well! Enjoy your weekend!


  3. I just can't believe that you don't have to wear a seatbelt in the back seat of a car!! In this day and age? Here in Europe it's been the law for many many years.

    Wearing seatbelts in buses has just started over here. Not all public buses have them yet, but the school buses do. Thank goodness!

  4. I agree with you about the seat belts. Here in Illinois we wear them in front and back. But I am not certain about the school buses. I drove my children to school. Yes all of them, everyday. This is the part of your post that meant the most to me. I wouldn't trade one minute of time in the car with my kids....there is something about the intimacy of a car a very short window of time..that they, the kids, open's almost magical. I listened much and learned much about my children during those drives. Good for you for having such wonderful dad instincts.... I praise you
    and thank you for sending comfort

  5. The wearing of seat belts is not obligatory in most provinces in Canada, either. This is what the Government of Ontario has to say about it on their website regarding schoolbus safety:

    Why no seat belts?

    Information from all types of school bus collisions demonstrates that the current school bus design provides a high level of protection to occupants and that seat belts may actually adversely affect the safety of children on school buses (Transport Canada).

    Instead of requiring seat belts, school buses are designed and constructed differently from passenger cars. School buses protect passengers through "compartmentalization", a design that includes:
    • Seats with high backs;
    • Seats filled with energy-absorbing material;
    • Seats placed close together to form compartments;
    • Strong seat anchorages.

    Studies have shown that adding seat belts to the current seating configuration of a school bus can increase the chance of head and neck injuries. For a seat belt to be effective, it must be worn correctly, snug and on the upper thighs. Because school vehicles carry passengers from the very young to high school students, if seat belts were used, they would need to be readjusted and their use monitored. A seat belt not worn correctly may cause serious injuries.

    I don't know how valid this really is, but it sounds reasonable. I suspect that enforcement of seat-belt wearing might be the biggest impediment, though.
    Your son must surely appreciate these commutes as much as you do, Christopher - like most parents I had some of my best times with my kids while we were in the car.

  6. I have read the same reasoning that Deborah posted and some of it does make sense
    the standing and running around the bus worries me most, and many districts have cut bus assistants so that leaves the driver to be the only adult
    I can't imagine paying attention to the road and watching 20+ children!!

    thanks for the HBO comment, made me smile

    have a wonderful time wih your son each morn, those days go quickly

  7. The law in this country is absolutely clear on the matter:


    and no exceptions.

  8. yeah, i don't understand laws like this...even if statistics were to show that it was safer behind the front seat....that there are no seatbelts on school buses is what i find absurd

  9. I'm from Ontario and I resisted allowing my kids in school buses for the very early years because of the lack of seat belts in most of these vehicles.

    We were also told that older kids have been very destructive over the years and newly-belted buses have been destroyed in less than 24 hours.. evidently older teen cut through them. I didn't quite buy that but I'm more inclined to accept what Deborah posted above.

    My kids are long-grown now and when I think of it, I've spent many an hour on city buses and Grayhounds and never saw seatbelts in any of those. There's no doubt we're less vulnerable than in a car. Though I would like to see it more strictly enforced that kids not be allowed to stand up in a bus.

  10. This made me think of when my three were little. Any time there was road travel involved, it really was a perfect time for sharing and reconnecting...

    I never understood the no seat belts on buses. I could see it becoming complicated, but, having ridden on many a school bus growing up, I'm just glad we never got into a crash because I think it would have had some horrifying results - just with the backpacks and such flying around!

  11. Not being a parent, I had no idea there were not seat belts on buses! You're absolutely right, how can we have allowed this oversight for so many years? We need to get on!

    Also, just wanted to drop by and thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. I really appreciate it! I'm so glad you did, it brought me here to read your lovely post! I'm you're newest follower, cheers!

  12. Deborah's comments make sense ... I imagine it is difficult to fit seat belts to all sizes on a school bus. And I can see teens totally destroying them. Don't know what the answers are but good post.

  13. Great post. I didn't realize the law does not require seat belts to be worn in the back seats of cars. Regarding the buses, my guess is that elementary age kids would wear them and then compliance would decrease as you go up the grade levels. So what? Start with the little ones and keep going each year.