Summer is over and our kids are back to school. Children around the country ride school buses every day. School buses are considered to be one of the safest forms of transportation because of their size, design and weight. Yet, sadly, every year, six school age children die in school bus crashes as passengers.
Everyone knows seat belts save lives. Seat belts have been required in passenger cars since 1968. But did you know that not all Florida’s school buses have to have seat belts? In fact, Florida law mandates that only school buses bought after December 31, 2000 be equipped with safety belts. Older school buses do not have to be equipped with even if are in service. The law applies to any school bus used exclusively to transport public school students from Pre K to 12th Grade. However, certain vehicles not used to “exclusively” transport public students are exempt.
I suppose Florida’s School Bus Seat belt law is designed to protect our children. But guess who has the legal responsibility to make sure that your child is using their school bus seat belt and that it is properly adjusted? The child. In other words, if a 9 year old girl is injured as a result of not properly using her seat belt on a school bus, it is her fault. Florida Statute §316.6145 gives complete legal immunity to the State of Florida, School Board, School Bus driver, teachers and chaperones if a Florida student suffers personal injuries for not waring a seat belt.
If your child takes a school bus to school, our Hialeah traffic accident lawyers recommend that every parent consider the following:
1. Inspect your child’s school bus to determine if it has been equipped with safety belts. If the bus does not comply, notify your school district immediately.
2. Teach your children how to use and adjust a seat belt. They may be different in a school bus than your Prius.
3. Always wear your seat belt. Not just for your safety, but to mirror the behavior for your children.
4. Remind your child every day before leaving to use the bus’s seat belt at all times.
This year a dozen children were injured, five critically and one died in a Florida school bus crash in St. Lucie County. 9 year old Aaron Beauchamp and 30 other elementary students were on their way home from school when a Peterbilt semitrailer truck collided with their bus. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Aaron was belted, but it was loose fitting and not properly adjusted. Two other children, Kayla Jungjohan, 8, and Joey Yannucci, 10 — had to be air lifted to a neighboring hospital and were put into medically induced comas. Our prayers are with the families.
The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) called for new school bus safety standards citing that side-impact crashes show the need for additional requirements. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), regulates school bus construction standards and gave manufacturers the option of improving bus seats or installing safety belts.
As a Miami Gardens lawyer for school accidents I know that there is much more that can be done to protect our children. I urge the legislature to ban the use of cellphones by school bus drivers except for emergencies, require that school buses be equipped with forward collision warning systems and expand the seat belt requirements to any school bus in use by a public school.