PLATTSBURGH — Amy Coughlin Rugar had to battle to see her first-grader buckled up on the school bus.
“I find it absurd that if I had my son unbuckled in my personal vehicle, I would get a ticket,” she posted on the Press-Republican’s Facebook page.
“However, you place that same child on a school bus and no one forces them to buckle their seat belt.”
Rugar insisted that her son be buckled up; she said she wrote a letter to the bus driver, and when that didn’t work, she went to the school principal.
“We eventually resolved the issue but not without much insistence on my part,” she said.
Numerous P-R Facebook readers feel it doesn’t make sense for New York state to require seat belts on school buses, but not their use.
Drivers defend that policy, citing school bus design, the limited reliability of seat belt cutters in emergencies and the higher level of safety school buses already provide.
Most school districts in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties do not have policies regarding seat-belt use.
In their responses to surveys posed by the P-R, school business managers and superintendents said safety drills are required, and they may work with parents of students who could benefit from being buckled up.
State law requires children under 4 to be buckled up in a car seat on a bus.
When the Press-Republican asked Facebook readers to offer their perspectives as parents, Craig Rock, a school bus driver for Durrin Transportation in Saratoga Springs, pointed out that there are 65 children on a bus — and one adult equipped with a seat belt cutter.
A school bus that catches fire can be engulfed in flames in less than two minutes, he continued.
“The seat belt cutter is only good for about 5 belts before it is too dull to cut anymore.”
Children aren’t buckled up for their own safety, Rock said, and school buses are the country’s safest form of transportation due to compartmentalization.
“I think it is a safe bet that anyone wanting their children buckled up on the bus has never drove a school bus or (isn’t) familiar with school bus design.”
Polly Colegrove King concurred.
“As a school bus driver and a firefighter, there’s no possible way to cut all 64 kids out before the bus could be fully engulfed!” she wrote.
“The kids are trained how to evacuate and they do exceptionally well.”
IF THE BUS FLIPS
Others responded to Rock’s post.
Elizabeth Miller countered that since her son could unbuckle himself in her car, he could get in and off the bus even in an emergency.
Rock replied that should the bus flip over, a student’s weight hanging against the belt would make it impossible to unbuckle, so it would have to be cut.
“I personally would rather have my child sustain a broken bone that can heal than the consequences that can occur from being suspended upside down for a period of time.”
Rock wrote that over a 10-year period, 45 drivers and 61 passengers — a total of 106 — were killed riding in or driving a school bus.
“That’s an average of 6 student deaths annually in school bus crashes and fires nationwide.”
About half a million school buses nationwide travel about 10 billion miles each year.
“That school bus will always be safer than a personal vehicle and mandating the use of seat belts defeats the design of the compartmentalization of a school bus,” Rock said.
“It is highly unlikely that a student would be killed if a bus flipped over while a student is unbuckled.”
Those students would be injured, but Rock argued that if they are left suspended the odds of worse complications or death are greater.
“I get from a parent’s point of view that if children have to be buckled in your own vehicle that it makes sense they should be buckled on every vehicle, but it is important to understand the design of a school bus and the training that school bus drivers are required to undertake.”
North Carolina-based school-bus driver Jonas Hoy said most districts across the country do not enforce seat-belt use in case of emergencies.
“Its hard enough getting them to remain calm on a normal day.
“Now try (having) 72 kids on a bus that just burst into flames.
“You want them unbuckled so they can quickly escape in case of an emergency.”
RIDE THROUGH NOTCH
In her comment, Shawntell Goff, who resides in Wilmington, asked if people have to wear seat belts while flying, why shouldn’t they have to wear them on buses?
She later told the Press-Republican the fact that her school-age children are not made to wear seat belts is a big issue for her.
“I have a 5 and 7-year-old in Lake Placid School who both take the bus through the Wilmington Notch twice a day.”
Goff said it doesn’t make sense that state law requires people to wear seat belts, but that schools don’t enforce that.
“In my opinion there should even be 5-point harness seat belts for the younger small children to further ensure their safety.”
She tells her children to wear seat belts on the bus, but doesn’t think they do.
Lake Placid School District Superintendent Dr. Roger P. Catania has said that the district performs safety drills for students in kindergarten and above.
Goff feels that’s not enough.
“It needs to be a rule: they are to buckle up even if it means us parents walk them in the bus and buckle them ourselves.”
Here are some other responses:
Kari Hebert Stonier: “I think it’s crazy some schools have to maintain all the seat belts in working order but the kids are not made to use them, for the protection of our children they should be made to wear them. Also it would keep the kids sitting so maybe they would help them behave better on the bus!”
Matthew Dupuis: “It is absurd that are kids are allowed to not wear seat belts on the bus. Like anything else once the expectation is set it’s second nature. How many kids have to get hurt or killed before the rules will finally be written in blood? Seat belts save lives!”
Laura Nolan Campbell: “I think it is ridiculous that NYS requires all buses to be equipped with seat belts, at the expense of the taxpayer, but the use of them is optional. Children should be required to wear the seat belts for a few reasons. Number one being safety. If a child is required to wear a seat belt when riding in a car, they should certainly be buckled on the school bus. The use of seat belts would also keep kids in their seats on the bus and put an end to kids wandering around when the driver isn’t looking. This also would help stop the bullying that happens on the bus.”
Curt Seymour: “Should be mandatory for all children to wear a seat belt.”
Kristin Watts Lawliss: “We never wore seat belts on the bus.”
Elizabeth Miller: “If they would use shoulder and lap, then yes. Just a lap belt I do not agree with. My 7 year old is required a shoulder and lap belt in with a booster in my personal vehicle, the busing should be the same I think. I never understood why it was not like that.”
Greg Cowan: “Ok how do (we) ‘force’ 25 or so screaming kids on a bus to wear a belt? How many accidents do we have locally? Your never going to get them to put it on.”
Judi Giddings: “Every child should be buckled up regardless of the vehicle but especially a school bus.”
Marty Connor: “Many years ago, in VT, my niece was injured when someone slammed into her stopped bus. She crusaded for years to get seat belts on school buses to no avail. When she had her own children, she drove them to and from school to ensure they were in seat belts.”
Vickie Martineau: “I have always had my kids buckle up on the bus. I had to write a note to the bus driver to do this.”