By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) – The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that all new school buses be equipped with shoulder and lap safety belts, however Colorado has no rule requiring that now.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Nicole Sherill. (credit: CBS)

Some parents feel there should be.

Nicole Sherill was walking her son, Caiden, home from Bear Creek K-8 School. There were buses available, but she won’t put her boy on them unless they have seat belts.

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“He is required to be in a booster seat, and he could ride a bus without a seat belt where I would get ticketed if he were out of his booster. That’s incredibly dangerous,” she told CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger.

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School bus crashes in Colorado are rare, but in 1971, brake failure led to a school bus crash on Monarch Pass killing eight students and a coach from Gunnison High School.

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In 1989, a Boulder Valley school bus crashed also due to brake failure. There were no belts.

“It’s highly unlikely, but if he were to get hit that’s why he doesn’t ride the bus,” Sherrill said.

A 2016 crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which six children were killed, was one of the accidents which led to the NTSB seat belt recommendation.

Most people CBS4 spoke with who picked up their children at Bear Creek K-8 feel say it’s a strong idea.

“I just think everybody in a car has to have a seat belt why not in a bus,” said Pam Erickson.

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Proponents of the belts have used videos for their message, but for years it has been argued compartmented seats with padding is acceptable.

Daniel Gonzalez was on one bus that stopped suddenly.

“Boy, it’s not that much padding. You feel the other person. I don’t think its safe,” he said.

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The most recent school bus fatality in Colorado was at Denver International Airport when the driver was killed and several others were injured.

Denver area school districts contacted by CBS4 say it’s too soon to say what they will do regarding the NTSB recommendation.

Denver Public Schools issued this statement:

DPS continues to engage in discussion around the safe transport of our students through enhanced training of our drivers. We also continue to engage in discussion around the recommendations provided by NTSB with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and national and state transportation organizations. DPS has begun purchasing buses with the recommended 3 point seatbelts.

Officials with Jefferson County Public Schools issued this statement:

We are aware of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation for seat belts on new school buses, and some of our new buses are prepped for seat belts and some have seat belts.  We believe lap-shoulder belts could definitely enhance safety and possibly improve student behavior, but there are other factors to consider, including state law and school bus safety research. We’ll continue to move forward as funds allow, but will take into consideration all sides of the issue.

Some other facts:

  • Jeffco Public Schools has purchased school buses with lap-shoulder belts this year to perform an independent study. If findings are favorable, we will implement a long-range plan to purchase school buses with three-point seat belts, if funding permits. 
  • School buses are one of the safest forms of transportation on the road today.  
  • Seat belts are not required in school buses because research has been done by the State Pupil Transportation Association and they have determined that compartmentalization was a better solution for large buses exceeding 10k GVW.
  • School buses are designed to protect children without seat belts by having seats that are strong, closely spaced together, high backed, well-padded, and that absorb energy during an accident.
  • The main threat students may face in the event of an accident is fire, and in that case immediate evacuation is the key to survival.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.