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School Bus Crash

Tragedy in Alabama


Published on Oct. 31, 2011

Opponents of requiring seat belts in school buses frequently cite the Alabama School Bus Seat Belt Pilot Project, a study that stemmed from a 2006 Huntsville, Ala., school bus crash that killed four passengers and injured 34.

In 2007, the Alabama Department of Education asked the University of Alabama for the study to determine whether seat belts were necessary in school buses. The study’s results were published in 2010.

The researchers used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s value for a “statistical life” of a school bus passenger – $6.4 million – to determine the cost effectiveness of implementing seat belts.

“They have to assume what a human life is worth,” said Jay Lindly, a researcher in the Alabama project, during a phone interview.

The researchers concluded that seat belts would save one life in an eight-year span and that the costs of adding seat belts significantly outweigh the safety benefits.

According to researchers, it would take 10 years for all Alabama school buses to be outfitted with seat belts, at an annual cost of about $12 million.

Researchers found that more than 90 percent of parents were confident about the safety of their children in school buses and believed that seat belts would only add more safety to the already safe vehicles.

But that confidence may have been shaken on Sept. 2, when an Alabama school bus carrying a football team was hit by a car and flipped over, killing a 15-year-old boy. About 35 other students were injured, according to Ron Baggette, the chief investigator of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office.

The bus was not equipped with seat belts.

Would seat belts have made a difference?

“That’s been a question that we have all been talking about here, and it is hard to say,” he said in a phone interview. “I don’t know if it would have saved the child or not, but I believe it wouldn’t have hurt.”

Shortly after the crash, Clarke County Sheriff Ray Norris told WTOK News, the ABC affiliate in Meridian, Miss. “I have always had a problem with school buses not using seat belts.”

The sheriff did not return 12 phone calls or a fax seeking comment for this story.

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