BALTIMORE (WJZ) — School buses transport children in Maryland tens of thousands of miles each year–but most don’t have seat belts–even though federal regulators say they save lives. Could this change and become a law in Maryland?
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren with the new push and why some school boards are so against it.
Many school administrators say school buses are different than regular cars and SUVs and that seat belts are not as effective. But one former Maryland politician says if we have to buckle up every day in our cars, we should have to do so for our kids in school buses.
A parent’s nightmare–their child’s school bus rolls over–like a crash in Baltimore County two years ago, where children had to escape from the roof.
But in Maryland, there is no requirement that large buses have seat belts, even though the law mandates we buckle up everywhere else.
“It just doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, Jr.
Redmer pushed for seat belts in the General Assembly almost two decades ago. It went nowhere.
“What did surprise me was the cavalier attitude in which local school boards around the state came out and opposed it,” said Redmer. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the money.”
It would cost roughly $10,000 per bus — $117 million statewide.
The federal government has said seat belts are not needed because school bus seats are packed tightly together with foam, and those security measures are adequate.
Montgomery County schools even details opposition on its website, writing: “…Seat belts are not the best way to protect students in school buses. Studies have shown that lap belts can cause serious injuries to children.”
The decision has been left up to the states, with, WJZ found, only six currently mandating seat belts.
For parents like Brad Brown, whose daughter Ashely died in a crash, schools need to put safety ahead of saving money.
“Not a day goes by we don’t think of her. That could have been prevented with lap shoulder belts on school buses,” said Brad Brown.
Insurance Commissioner Redmer believes it will unfortunately take a large tragedy before the Maryland General Assembly would consider the issue.
The NHTSA says it could take a decade for federal regulation, which is why advocates of seat belts say it’s critical for states to act now.