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February 20, 2008 05:59 PM

No Seat Belts On Buses ... Yet


The deaths in Cottonwood have many questioning school bus safety, specifically the lack of a national laws requiring children in buses to wear seat belts.


Only a handful of state require them in buses but none of them are in the upper Midwest. 

"Buses have not historically had seat belts on them," said Paul Gausman, West Central Superintendent, adding that none of the buses in his district have them and that's typically the case for most districts in the region. 

“I'm not an advocate of having them or not at this point,” he said. “It's just another one of those times were we want to study exactly what happens to others so we can better the situation for ourselves." 

But the learning may come slowly. 

Minnesota's State Patrol said there's no way to know whether seat belts would have made a difference in the Cottonwood crash. 

That's because buses without seat belts have other ways of keeping students safe. 

"The substructure with the rails and stuff underneath is what give it the strength on the side impact where it's not going to cave in on the kids," said Leslie Erikson, West Central’s Director of Transportation. 

Another safety precaution is called compartmentalizing. It's why seats are so packed together. 

But adding seat belts to the list of safety features in South Dakota may take time. 

"That would be a discussion that we would have state wide, possible with the legislator and definitely with the Department of Education," said Gausman. 

On an even higher level of government, South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune said the public could see the state and federal government get involved with the debate over whether seat belts should be required in buses. 

"You've got an awful lot of kids spending an awful lot of time on buses cris-crossing the state each year without seatbelts,” he said. “I think that's a valid question to ask in light of what happened here.” 

However, even without seat belts, buses remain among the safest ways to travel. Only about six bus fatalities are reported each year in the nation. Still, there are numerous groups that say seat belts can minimize tragedies like the one in Cottonwood.
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