The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has long said buses are the safest method for getting students to and from school.
States and school districts can buy school buses equipped with seat belts, though NHTSA has not found them to be any safer.
However, in 2015 NHTSA endorsed three-point seat belts on buses for the first time.
The belts are however still optional.
The NTSB has indicated the number of buses being bought with seat belts has increased.
School buses are required to be built much tougher than the average vehicle and absorb more of an impact in a crash.
Seat belts add cost to the bus as well as take away seating space.
The biggest concern is students may not be able to get their belt undone after a crash, therefore creating an even more dangerous situation.
A design called “compartmentalization” is required by NHTSA, “crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs. ”
According to NHTSA, “Small school buses (with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less) must be equipped with lap and/or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions. Since the sizes and weights of small school buses are closer to those of passenger cars and trucks, seat belts in those vehicles are necessary to provide occupant protection.”
Fatalities related to school buses tend to be pedestrians, which has led to exterior design changes over the years.
NHTSA has set up a website specifically about school bus safety.
The Tennessee State Highway Patrol tells WREG only special needs buses have seat belts, and when it comes to enforcement, their hands are tied by state law.