BREAKING NEWS : Hank Aaron, baseball legend and former home run king, dies at 86 Full Story

Mayor says NJ school bus crash scene 'horrific'

Mount Olive, New Jersey, Mayor Rob Greenbaum says the scene where a school bus and dump truck were involved in an accident looks "horrific."

Posted: May 18, 2018 3:04 AM
Updated: May 18, 2018 3:07 AM

Impassioned debates about safety tend to follow every deadly wreck involving a school bus -- such as Thursday's tragedy in Morris County, New Jersey.

A bus collided with a dump truck and flipped, resulting in two deaths and 43 people injured, according to Gov. Phil Murphy. One of the deceased is a child, while the other is an adult, he said. Some of the injured were in critical condition and undergoing surgery.

Unnerved parents across the nation are undoubtedly wondering: Should our children be wearing seat belts as they ride to and from school?

In fact, federal law requires smaller school buses -- those weighing 10,000 pounds or less -- to have lap-shoulder belts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. School buses above that weight are not mandated to provide seat belts for passengers.

States or local jurisdictions, however, are free to pass stricter regulations.

Seven states -- Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas -- have passed some variation of a seat belt law for larger school buses (even if funding had not been appropriated in all cases), notes the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There are strong voices on both sides of the school bus seat belt issue.

Protected by 'compartmentalization'

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation, is responsible for keeping people safe on America's roadways. It enforces vehicle performance standards and partnerships with state and local governments.

The agency's regulatory documents and its website consistently maintain the position that seat belts in larger school buses are not necessary.

"There is no question that seat belts play an important role in keeping passengers safe," the website notes. "But school buses are different by design, including a different kind of safety restraint system that works extremely well."

As explained by the agency, large school buses are heavier than passenger cars and distribute crash forces differently, resulting in bus passengers experiencing much less crash force than those riding in passenger cars, light trucks or vans.

Since small school buses are closer to cars in both size and weight, seat belts are necessary to provide protection in those vehicles, it says. School buses weighing 10,000 pounds or less -- the smaller ones -- must be equipped with lap and/or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions.

However, large school buses are a different matter, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In these large vehicles, an engineering concept called compartmentalization -- which translates, in practice, to strong, closely spaced seats and energy-absorbing seat backs -- protects children from crashes.

The nation's school bus fleet is 2½ times the size of all other forms of mass transportation combined, while each school day, more than 25 million American children ride in these buses to and from school, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation, a trade association in the student transportation industry.

As to whether seat belts would increase safety in larger school buses, the trade association states that "a great deal of ambiguity remains."

A clear opposing viewpoint to the official position of the federal government, though, is espoused by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It offers a long trail of published studies and editorials about school bus safety, including the use of seat belts, reaching all the way to the mid-1980s.

"Simply put, in a perfect world, all school buses would have seat belts in all seating positions. Sadly, it's a more complex world than that," said Dr. Ben Hoffman, chairman of the academy's Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention and a practicing pediatrician at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, describing the policy.

Hoffman said the academy's position has always been "that seat belts on school buses would be a good thing for kids."

'Astronomically high' costs

The principle of compartmentalization protects children "to a large degree," Hoffman said. "We do know that school buses, in the grand scheme of things, tend to be very safe vehicles, They travel at relatively lower speeds most of the time, they travel predictable routes, they're very visible, and they're also very big so that in the event of a collision, they're gonna tend to win."

So, for the majority of minor crashes, "compartmentalization works," he said, though this doesn't mean a child provided with a seat belt or seat harness wouldn't have a lower risk of injury.

School bus rollovers and high-speed crashes are "where we probably would see the greatest benefit" in adding belts to buses, Hoffman said. "Fortunately, those tend to be very rare."

Ultimately, the biggest barrier to retrofitting school buses with seat belts is the cost, which would be "astronomically high," he said. And since school buses have a lifespan of somewhere between 10 and 20 years, even if municipalities passed policies to require seat belts, they would probably be for newly purchased buses. In that scenario, it would take a long time for an entire fleet to become fully equipped.

Most recently, in May, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for students with special health care needs, including the approximately 300,000 who travel seated in wheelchairs on school buses each day. This new policy, Hoffman said, "is really about establishing guidelines to ensure that every child can be transported safely to school, regardless of their ability or disability."

"National PTA advocates that all new school buses be equipped with three-point seat belts," said Heidi May Wilson, a spokeswoman for the organization. Additionally, the PTA endorsed a bill introduced in the House of Representatives last year that requires the Department of Transportation to establish a program to provide school buses with seat belts and other safety features.

Generally, school buses are much safer than traveling in a private car, Hoffman said. "The majority of injuries that occur with school buses actually occur getting on and off the bus or happen around a bus rather than in a moving bus."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 601937

Reported Deaths: 9593
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion831111322
Lake44972678
Allen32498545
Hamilton29039315
St. Joseph27133380
Elkhart24291343
Vanderburgh19160246
Tippecanoe17799130
Johnson14871292
Porter14631167
Hendricks14188247
Madison10851219
Vigo10636178
Clark10520137
Monroe9299110
Delaware9055134
LaPorte8972160
Howard8134142
Kosciusko800382
Warrick665197
Hancock6575103
Bartholomew637999
Floyd6322109
Wayne6076161
Grant5937113
Dubois552578
Boone544967
Morgan530594
Henry503464
Marshall499884
Cass478663
Dearborn470745
Noble468357
Jackson420747
Shelby410781
Lawrence387478
Clinton370642
Gibson365559
DeKalb344264
Montgomery340754
Harrison340544
Knox333139
Miami317344
Steuben311545
Whitley301725
Wabash299747
Adams299035
Ripley296545
Putnam292049
Huntington288659
Jasper287634
White270340
Daviess266073
Jefferson257938
Fayette245148
Decatur244883
Greene238162
Posey236927
Wells233350
LaGrange226361
Scott221838
Clay220932
Randolph212148
Jennings195836
Sullivan190833
Spencer188019
Fountain182127
Washington182022
Starke174443
Jay166322
Owen162837
Fulton162330
Orange156333
Carroll155415
Rush153318
Perry151227
Vermillion147334
Franklin146933
Tipton130932
Parke13018
Pike115626
Blackford110522
Pulaski96137
Newton90521
Brown86833
Benton85910
Crawford7839
Martin72313
Warren6757
Switzerland6455
Union6227
Ohio4787
Unassigned0375

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 849704

Reported Deaths: 10518
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin100046706
Cuyahoga845231068
Hamilton63092447
Montgomery42660405
Summit34405754
Lucas31041611
Butler30546229
Stark25443429
Warren19436140
Lorain18767223
Mahoning17163337
Lake15882153
Clermont15697110
Delaware1422678
Licking13067137
Trumbull12680313
Fairfield1262180
Greene11915136
Medina11439167
Clark10802265
Wood10230158
Allen9774126
Portage9163107
Miami907373
Richland9035117
Marion7420113
Tuscarawas7280179
Columbiana7263124
Pickaway719550
Wayne6954169
Muskingum690741
Erie6090127
Hancock547590
Ross543487
Scioto533664
Geauga501155
Darke465591
Ashtabula449373
Lawrence447053
Union444928
Sandusky433062
Mercer432088
Huron423541
Seneca423465
Auglaize419662
Shelby419421
Jefferson415469
Belmont411240
Washington383340
Athens37379
Putnam372674
Madison349929
Knox347922
Ashland342538
Fulton335243
Defiance327782
Crawford319472
Preble318437
Brown307121
Logan304132
Ottawa289243
Clinton286643
Williams275866
Highland271818
Jackson261345
Guernsey249825
Champaign249328
Fayette234429
Morrow23014
Perry228318
Holmes222864
Henry216849
Hardin210133
Coshocton203521
Van Wert200545
Gallia194726
Wyandot193851
Pike172417
Adams172015
Hocking169824
Carroll153216
Paulding143221
Noble119940
Meigs106823
Monroe100331
Harrison87821
Morgan82229
Vinton68913
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
26° wxIcon
Hi: 27° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 16°
Angola
Cloudy
23° wxIcon
Hi: 24° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 11°
Huntington
Cloudy
25° wxIcon
Hi: 28° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 14°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
26° wxIcon
Hi: 28° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 16°
Lima
Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 29° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 17°
Colder Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events