Knoxville transportation expert says school bus safety design changes not necessary

Southeastern Transportation Center Director Stephen Richards

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Tuesday’s school bus crash that killed three people, including two children, has a lot of people asking about how to make our buses safer, and a big topic of discussion is seat belts.

A local transportation expert says the number of serious school bus accidents is too low to determine if major design changes need to happen.

Each day more than 23 million students across the country hop on a bus to get to school, and Southeastern Transportation Center Director Stephen Richards says those children are very safe.

Southeastern Transportation Center Director Stephen Richards
Southeastern Transportation Center Director Stephen Richards

“The number of child deaths and serious injuries is very very low and it tends to be steady so we don’t see it rising,” he said.

He says on average there are 815 children killed each year going to or coming from school. 75 percent of those are in passenger cars, 22 percent walking or biking, and only two percent are riding the bus.

“They’re very strong seats. They’re fairly closely spaced so you do have an enclosed capsule, and again the design philosophy is to provide a protective envelope for the child,” said Richards.

That design is called compartmentalization and came about in the 1960s.

Many people are wondering Tennessee buses do not have seat belts. Some states have equipped their buses with seat belts, but the number of deaths or serious injuries isn’t changing.

“The studies have indicated that they (seat belts) have not provided a significant margin of safety and I guess the proof is in the numbers,” said Richards.

Even though the overall design has not changed in a number of years, Richards says with so few serious accidents that design is still effective.

“Certainly parents should not be afraid to put their children on school buses,” he said.

Knox County Schools say all of their regular sized buses including the ones in the accident Tuesday use the compartmentalization design.

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