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School bus crash revives seat belt talk

Police say 14 of 52 passengers and the bus driver are injured when the bus and a pickup collide.

By Joe Schoenmann and Lisa Kim Bach

Tuesday, July 27, 1999
Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal

      A Monday morning school bus accident that left a little girl in critical condition and breathing with a ventilator has resurrected talk about equipping school buses with seat belts.
      The seat belt idea was included, then dropped, in a legislative bill proposed in 1997.
      Assemblyman Joe Dini, D-Yerington, who drafted the bill, hadn't heard of the accident Monday afternoon, but he said he will likely reintroduce the bill during the next legislative session.
      "I think it could come back alive," he said. "I think it's something we need to debate and see if we can work it out."
      If it ever came to a legislative debate, it's likely the Clark County School District would fight it.
      "Our position is that children are safer without being strapped in," said Ronald Dispenza, director of transportation for the School District.
      Monday morning's accident occurred at the intersection of Fort Apache and Spring Mountain roads.
      Las Vegas police said a school bus driven by George Beck, 45, of Las Vegas was going east on Spring Mountain but was stopped at a stop sign at an intersection. He was on his way to Roger Bryan Elementary School, 8255 Katie Ave.
      At the same time, Samuel Ford, 44, was driving south on Fort Apache in a Ford pickup.
      After stopping, Beck edged the bus forward into the intersection. Police said Beck immediately noticed Ford's pickup was not stopping at the four-way stop, and slammed on his brakes to try to avoid a collision.
      The left front of the bus hit the right front and side of the pickup, police said, resulting in the bus moving forward and rotating it clockwise to a standstill.
      Of the 52 children on the bus, 13 suffered minor injuries and one girl, who was thrown under a seat by the impact, suffered an internal head wound, said a Police Department source. The bus driver suffered minor injuries, and Ford was not injured, police said. Names of the injured children were not released.
      All of the injured were taken to University Medical Center.
      No charges were filed, but the accident is under investigation.
      District spokeswoman Mary Stanley-Larsen said most of the children involved in the accident were taken home by parents. A second bus was called to the accident scene to transport uninjured children to school.
      Counselors were available for children to speak with, although the school's regular counselor went with the injured children to UMC, assisting them and their families. Stanley-Larsen said counselors also would be at the school today.
      Steve La-Sky, Clark County Fire Department spokesman, said close to a dozen emergency vehicles responded.
      "These kind of incidences, where you have a bus filled with children, always creates a lot of concern for our rescuers," he said. "When the injured parties are children, it takes more of an emotional toll on the people involved."
      The seat belt issue for school buses gained the national spotlight in 1987.
      Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to examine the causes of school bus accidents and evaluate the effectiveness of seat belts. When the report was completed in 1989, the academy's National Research Council recommended that seat belts not be required. Better ways to improve student safety were suggested by the council, including driver training, stop signal arms on buses, improved routing of buses and cross-view mirrors.
      Several seat belt studies show they might do more harm than good. A crash test conducted by the Thomas Bus Co. showed seat belts make little difference in side-impact crashes.
      Another study -- the Canadian Transport Head-On Collision Crash Tests -- showed passengers wearing seat belts on buses sustained worse head injuries than those without seat belts. In frontal collisions, six of nine crash dummies suffered what would have been been fatal head injuries in humans. The injuries recorded by eight unbelted crash dummies were much less severe.
      In a special report by Dispenza for the district, he noted that national school bus standards include strict structural requirements aimed at safeguarding students. In addition to rigid structural integrity and rollover protection, buses have high padded seats placed to provide impact protection. Experts believe those safety features offer more protection than seat belts, Dispenza reported.
      "A child is 46 percent safer riding on a school bus than he is riding in the family car,' Dispenza said.
      The 1997 bill that was introduced in the Nevada legislature would have required seat belts on all school buses by July 1, 1999. The bill, however, was amended and the seat belt portion was dropped. The amended bill that passed required safety programs for children who ride buses, largely consisting of instruction on how to use emergency exit doors in case of an accident.
Taken from:  Las Vegas Review-Journal