Opinion Columns & Blogs

Why are we risking kids in unbelted school buses?

Columnist Bill Hall
Columnist Bill Hall

In addition to all the zillions of automobiles we have had in this country over the years we have also had access to much larger vehicles. They are called buses. The most crucial among them from a life-and-death point of view are yellow buses, school buses, our most worrisome buses, the allegedly safe kiddie ride.

As a child, I traveled thousands of miles to and from school in a yellow bus. Now I have entered a time of life with cross-country buses used by traveling grandparents, by the young going to visit grandparents, and by people simply too practical or too poor to have a car of their own.

I suspect the day will come when public transit returns from those long-ago years of public buses and trains. Meanwhile, most other nations on earth already provide many times the meager bus and train service we have.

We have few shortages of yellow school buses. However, we still need to cope with a huge and scary flaw in that bus service. Where are the seat belts? Those are children sitting there, ready to rattle around inside a rolling, crashing bus.

Granted, access to seat belts for buses should be children first – so small and soft, so easily wounded and killed. But I wouldn’t mind having a seat belt for brittle, easily broken elders like me.

Ironically, old drivers are a threat to the rest of the public. If we had enough trains and buses in America, we could justify pressuring elders to find their way out from behind the wheel.

Sharon and I and some of our fellow geezers have already taken a first step toward retiring from behind the wheel. If we want to go 270 miles to Boise to visit an epidemic of grandchildren, we usually take the bus.

It takes only about an hour longer by bus than in our own car. However, there are several advantages. On a bus, you can take a nap. You can read. You can eat potato chips.

On the other hand, the minute we board the cross-country bus, we reach for our seat belts – and never find them.

Cars have seat belts, trucks have seat belts and airplanes have seat belts. Why not buses?

It was a Boise school bus during my kid years that brings back a ghastly memory from childhood. One of the small school districts in Boise Valley lacked more than seat belts. Almost all buses everywhere in America still lack them.

To make matters hideously worse those many years ago, the buses in that school district didn’t even use real buses. It used farm trucks that normally hauled crops. That insane district put students in the bed of the truck with nothing but a canvas over the top.

There came a terrible day when one of those so-called buses collided with another vehicle. The newspaper displayed dead and injured children all over the front page.

I saw a similar scene on television the other night. Fortunately, it demonstrated a school bus rolling over with unbelted children bashing against the walls, the ceiling and each other.

The good news was that it was a fictional demonstration of the need for seat belts on buses. The best news of all was that the installation of school bus seat belts are starting to spread across the country.

Is it too much to hope that bus belts will be duplicated in public transit buses for old kids like me? If necessary, protect the kids first. After all, how horrible would it be to find yourself passing through the Pearly Gates side by side with your own battered grandchildren?

Contact Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.