(Gillette, Wyo.) Campbell County school buses with seat belts could outnumber those without in the next four to five years, according to Keith Chrans, school district transportation supervisor.
Currently, 55 school buses in the Campbell County School District fleet have seat belts. That number is expected to increase to 70 —more than half the fleet— later this year with the addition of 15 new buses.
The seat belts use a three-point harness design, mimicking those seen in standard vehicles (lap and shoulder belts). While they are not currently mandated, they are an extra safety measure that Chrans and the district are more than happy to implement.
“We feel like we go a lot of miles,” Chrans explained. “If we can be as safe as possible out there, then we’ll do it.”
Seat belts do come at a price. The district spends an average of $8,000 more per bus these days, but Chrans feels that the expenditure is well worth it.
School buses are already widely considered to be one of the safest modes of transportation thanks to their overall build and design, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
They are built with heavier chassis and the exterior design absorbs impact energy. Inside, a school bus’s padded seats are arranged in such a way that they form a series of compartments using the padded seats. This internal compartmentalization keeps students from being thrown about in the event of an impact.
“That’s the way buses have been designed for years,” Chrans explained.
However, in the event of a rollover or tip-over, compartmentalization is simply not enough to prevent students from being seriously injured, which is why the district initially fought for seat belts ten years ago.
At the time, state legislators were considering making seat belts on school buses mandatory, though ultimately decided against it due to budgetary concerns, Chrans said.
In 2015, NHTSA changed their position on seat belts, seeing them as an added level of safety and issuing an official recommendation that all school buses be equipped with seat belts.
The first buses in Campbell County to feature seat belts was received in 2016 and every year since, every new bus ordered comes standard with them.
Chrans said that the district will not be retrofitting old school buses with seat belts.
“Structural integrity-wise, you can’t go back and retrofit buses with seat belts,” he explained.
Bus seats in older buses are designed to absorb the force of a child impacting the back, but not to withstand the force of being pulled forward by a seat belt. New buses come with updated floor anchors that can withstand the stress.
Older school buses without seat belts will be slowly phased out through attrition, Chrans said.