All buses in New York are required to have seatbelts by State Law but it is up to the individual school district to decide whether to enforce their use. On May 17, 2018, a horrific crash in New Jersey when a school bus crashed into a dump truck in which a student and teacher died has parents worried about putting children onto buses. The Federal Government claims school buses are 70 times safer than a passenger car. School officials, experts and industry figures say school buses are designed to protect students in the event of a crash even without seatbelts. Even without seatbelts, he Assistant Director of Transportation at The Rockland County Board of Cooperative Educational Services claims “there are actually a lot of things that make the role of a school bus drivers much safer than a parent”.

According to an article in The Journal News entitled “Buckle up: Is it the law?” by Kimberly Redmond and Matt Coyne on May 19, 2018, school buses are safer because of their size and weight. The distinctive yellow color, the extra lights and retractable stop sign, the interior of a school bus is designed with safety in mind. The Assistant Director in Rockland County, Joann Thompson states “the design – the compartmentalization which is the higher backed seat in front and behind helps student from getting significantly hurt if we were involved in a crash”. “It gives an added level of safety that supersedes a parent transporting their kid in their own car”.

Elmsford students from kindergarten to sixth grade have to use seatbelts and the district has monitors on buses to make sure. Briarcliff Manor requires seatbelts for elementary school students on field trips. White Plains encourages the use of seatbelts at transportation orientation for parent and students every year but does not mandate it. In the New Jersey school bus accident on May 17, 2018, students were reportedly wear seatbelts and when the crash happened, students were screaming and hanging from their seatbelts as the bus went on its side and escaped through windows and emergency exits. Al Roney from New York School Bus Contractors Associates states seatbelts can help in situations like crashes but when a young student has to evacuate, the seatbelts can slow things down. He states “we’re all about student safety first. If there is a mandate that all students have to wear a seatbelt, too, we’re going to go with that and whatever the state decides”.

In an article on Sunday, May 20, 2018 in The Journal News by Curtis Tate points out that the deadly crash involving a school bus and a dump truck in Morris County, New Jersey highlights weaknesses in school bus safety; their performance in side impact crashes. School buses are among the safest vehicles on the road according to the National Highway Traffic Administration School Transportation. Vehicle experience 0.2 fatalities for every 100 million miles driven. This compares to passenger vehicles with 1.5 fatalities for every 100 million miles driven. School buses have a lot of safety features that are unique to them said Jennifer Jermakian, a Senior Research Engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They are larger and heavier than most vehicle, they have enhanced strength requirements and highly visible. Their safety measures are designed for typical operation environment of picking up kids in the morning and dropping them off in the afternoon within their communities. In the New Jersey bus accident, the bus was taking students on a field trip traveling on Interstate 80 where it encountered traffic at high speed. “Those things are not going to address situations where they encounter a dump truck that probably weighs as much as the bus and on high speed roads like there were on” according to Jermakian. She also states that school buses have been designed to contain students much like eggs in a carton. The energy absorbing material in the seat cushions are effective in preventing injuries in front, end and rear end collisions. An official close to the investigation told officials that the bus had missed a U turn in the median of the highway when the dump truck struck the bus in the side towards the rear. The bus then rotated and struck a utility pole on the opposite side. The NTSB cited “nonuse or misuse of school bus passenger lap belts and the lack of passenger protection from interior sidewalls, side wall components and seat frames”. The board went further concluding that “properly worn lap and shoulder belts reduce injuries related to upper body flailing commonly seen with lap belts only and therefore, provide the best protection for school bus passengers”.

If you or your child has been injured in a school bus accident in New York and the bus is owned by the School District, a notice of claim must be filed against the school district within 90 days and a lawsuit started within 1 year 90 days from the accident.

If your child has been injured in a school bus accident, contact the Law Firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800 or at our website of or on our new web name of Robustelli Personal Injury Law

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