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HealthWatch: Back to School Safety


As families prepare for their children to return to school at the end of summer, it’s worth thinking about the risks and benefits of various modes of transportation to and from school:  walking, bicycling, driving, and school bus. Of all of these, the school bus is the safest … provided it’s a truly safe bus.

The problem is that many older school buses still in service don’t have safety belts, and in the event of a collision or even a quick stop or swerve, children can be thrown from seats and injured.  Remarkably, about 17,000 children across the country are treated in emergency rooms annually, having been injured in school bus mishaps.  Often, even “minor” injuries are not so minor. A patient of mine lost her front teeth in a bus crash and, as a young girl, had to be fitted for false teeth.

Almost all of these school bus injuries — minor and major — can be prevented by wearing lap/shoulder seat belts.

California law requires all school buses built in 2006 and after to be equipped with lap/shoulder belts.  It is well documented that lap/shoulder belts work — they dramatically improve child passenger safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a long-standing policy advocating for seat belts on school buses.  The problem is that there are many old school buses — without seat belts — still on the road.

Responsible parents should insist that their school district — whether it’s Irvine Unified School District or Tustin Unified School District — require that any contract buses used to transport kids to and from school, or a school-related event, be equipped with three-point lap/shoulder belts.  And be sure to instruct your children to always use them!

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH, FAAP
Latest posts by Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH, FAAP (see all)


Irvine, CA
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