CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Most small passenger buses are required to have seat belts, but not the big, yellow school buses that take kids to and from school every day. Neither state nor federal law requires them.
But after a deadly accident in Tennessee last year where six children died, the debate about seat belts on school buses was revived in many states.
As part of our series on school bus safety, we talked transportation directors in Lowcountry school systems. Overall, they believe more and more states will begin to require seat belts on buses.
We asked several school officials if they thought school buses should have seat belts. Terry Dingle is the Interim Director of Transportation for Colleton County Schools. "As far as I'm concerned, I don't go to the mailbox without putting my seatbelt on," he said.
"That's really up for the legislature to answer that question. I do think they're probably inevitable, it's just a matter of how it's implemented," said Jeff Scott, Charleston County Schools' Executive Director of Transportation. Scott said if our state moves in that direction, we should learn from other states that have already done so.
"In the near future, I foresee seat belts being on school buses," Paul Cobbs said. Cobbs is the Transportation Director for Dorchester District 4.
The NHTSA says school buses are the safest way for kids to get to school, seatbelts or not. It reports on average every year six school-age children die in school bus crashes, compared to 42,000 people who are killed in traffic crashes on roadways.
Infographics on the NHTSA's website say kids are 70 times more likely to get to school safely in a bus instead of by car, and school buses relieve traffic by keeping 17.3 million cars off the road every morning.
School bus seats are built to "compartmentalize" the children if there's a crash. "For the most part, if we have an incident going from front to back, you'll have that padded, raised seat in front of you to protect you," Dingle said. But he is more concerned with impacts to the side of a bus, or a roll-over type event like the one in Chattanooga. "The padded seat isn't going to help as much because they'll slide off of the seat. But if we have some type of lap or harness seatbelt, then it would lock and keep from going past the edge of the seat."
Six states currently require seat belts on school buses: California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey, and New York.
South Carolina Representative Wendell Gilliard wants South Carolina to join that list. He is one of several legislators who've proposed a bill this year asking South Carolina to get on board with seat belts.
"After the Tennessee accident, alarms went off in my mind," said Gilliard. "Safety is the number one priority with our children. The buses are equipped if we went to the system. I've talked to engineers and teachers."
Molly Spearman, South Carolina's State Superintendent of Education, mentioned seat belts in a recent address to the media. She was talking about buying new buses to replace the state's current fleet, much of which is in bad shape.
Spearman said the new buses the state is buying are equipped to add seat belts later if districts or the state chooses.