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Good, strong belt keeps kids in line

By Andrew Herrmann, The Sunday News Editor at The Chicago Sun Times. First published by The Chicago Sun Times, original commentary title: GOOD, STRONG BELT KEEPS KIDS IN LINE, published September 22, 1999. ©1999, The Chicago Sun Times - All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.
In order to keep school bus drivers happy, the Pinellas County, Fla., school district created a device that will be appreciated by anyone who ever has driven a Big Yellow--or ridden in one.

This year, a driver can have a cloth screen installed behind his or her head--a spitball shield.

Made of cotton and stretching from ceiling to seat back, the screens are said to be not only spitball proof but also repellant to paper clips, batteries and most other projectiles found in a typical school bookbag.

Helping Hand Award

That's not all. The district also bought AM/FM radios for the buses. A district spokesman told a Florida newspaper it was because "music calms the savage beast." He was described as saying this "jokingly."

Where's the joke?

Even when I rode school buses 25 years ago, they were insane asylums on wheels.

In the afternoon, it was like sailors on liberty, freed from the barking admirals of education. Somehow, this emancipation seemed best expressed by pressing one's bare rear against--or out of--the bus' back windows.

When I read about high turnover of school bus drivers, I shrug. The stories might as well be about labor shortages on the bomb squad or the lack of people wanting to clean up nuclear accidents. Why, of course.

In the morning, Sugar-Coated-Lip-Smacker-Cereal-cranked kids, refreshed from 10 hours of sleep, headed down the highway to a place they weren't all that interested in going to, supervised by a driver who could only sporadically monitor them from an oversized mirror.

Should seat belts be required on school buses?

Your Thought

Members Registered Poll

Lately, there's been a lot of talk over school bus safety, specifically about mandating seat belts. The belt folks want them, reasoning that if they help keep adults in cars safe, why not kids in buses? Those against belts say that padded high back seats, which create so-called "safety compartments," are safe enough. Safety compartments are actually better than lap belts, they argue, because in accidents, the belts can slice into internal organs. In a new report, the National Traffic Safety Board favors safety compartments.

I don't know about internal organs, but I'm all for the belts.

They're good for tying the little monsters down.

In 1985, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration came to school districts in north suburban Skokie and Wilmette, as well as a handful of other districts around the country that had at least some buses with seat belts.

The investigators rode buses, jotted down notes, thanked their lucky stars they weren't bus drivers and came up with some conclusions, the most interesting being that belts improved student conduct. In fact, they concluded, the calming "appears to be one of the major benefits of a belted school bus program."

You need Java to see this applet.
Investigators noted that students on belt-equipped buses stayed mostly put. They did not roam the aisles nor stand on the seats (as they did on with regularity on the unbelted buses). There was less putting heads and hands out of windows, too. On the buses where there were no belts, students were more likely "to stand, get into fights and generally display more rowdy behavior," the report found. One field investigator observed that drivers on unbelted buses reprimanded students about their behavior 20 times every 25 minutes. True, there was a seat belt compliance problem: The little kids almost all wore them. By the 7th and 8th grade, about 75 percent did. High schoolers were down to between 25 and 50 percent. (The teens explained they resented being told what to do. Who knew?)

But since bus drivers were directed to report the kids who were not using the belts, the kids generally remained seated for fear of being discovered belt-less.

The bus-ologists found one problem with the belted buses: Some of the kids buckled the long straps across the aisle, fashioning a kind of trip wire.

Perhaps if we belted the kids to the outside of the bus. . . .

Your Comments on this article - Subject: Seat Belts (Oct 99 ATA)
Andrew Herrmann, The Chicago Sun Times - Andrew Herrmann's Commentaries at the Chicago Sun Times."
The School Bus Seat Belt Issue - An indepth look at seat belts on the big yellow buses. Plenty of helpful links at the end of this article."
2safeschools Webrings - Take the grand tour ... over 300 teachers, classrooms and school bus drivers nationwide ready to share their web pages. You'll find a nation's worth of ideas for all grade levels in these webrings."
Teachers.Net - A national web site for teachers of all disciplines at all grade levels. Provides many resources. Beth Burno writes a regular column at called "Schoolhouse Views."
SNET's Internet Features Page - An excellent web site for parents and teachers, features articles relevant to the home, school and the community environment.
2safeschools Awards Center - Does your web page include a safety suggestion, flyer or article. If it does, apply for your personalized 2safeschools "Helping Hand Award." No safety pages or flyers? Provide a LINK to 2safeschools free templates page or to our directory or other 2safeschools page of your choice, then apply for your award; Directory Link: Graphic links available at our Links Center.
A Mother's Story - What this mom did when the school and therapy failed her out-of-control son. Excellent reading for Parents and School Staff dealing with an out-of-control teen and nothing else has worked.
A Librarianís Story - A 10-year veteran of the King County, (Washington State) Public Library resigned rather than carry out library policy of providing children with pornography.
How to help keep your child's school bus safe - A short article from "In Loving Memory."

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