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Get safety belts on the bus for children’s sake

IT GOES WITHOUT saying that we expect school leaders to provide children with a good education.

If that’s the case, why are those same leaders failing to protect children by installing safety belts in school buses?

We don’t allow babies and toddlers in cars unless they are in approved safety seats. Yet we allow children to ride in buses without the seat belts that routinely save lives in car, truck and sport-utility vehicle accidents.

A rash of recent school bus accidents, including the horrific scene where a school bus nose-dived off an interstate overpass in Alabama on Nov. 20, killing four children and injuring many others, has restarted the debate regarding bus seat belts.

We wonder, however, what there is to debate? Seat belts save lives. Seat belts in buses would save more lives.

As it stands, school buses are built in a compartmentalized design that includes padded high-backed seats that are placed close together. The seats are designed to “give way” in a crash to protect passengers.

But according to Dr. Alan Ross, president of the grassroots National Coalition for School Bus Safety, compartmentalization is “a lot of nonsense. That is total spin by the marketing people for the industry.”

The National Transportation Safety Board -- which estimates that about six children die annually in school bus accidents -- has included protection for school bus passengers on its “most wanted” list for 2007.

Ross says his group has support for bus belts from agencies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the National Parent Teacher Association. He notes that about 400 communities around the country have already implemented seat belts on their school bus fleets.

That’s the way to travel.

Paying lip service to “safety first” makes a mockery of our intentions when we daily place the safety of our children dead last.

Our neighbors in New York and New Jersey join Louisiana, Florida and California as the only states that have seat belt laws on the books.

That’s the bus we need to catch. We need to install school bus safety belts now.

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