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Topic spotlight: new federal position on school bus seat belts

Many of our readers across Ventura County and other parts of Southern California who are of a certain age might have been regular bus riders to and from school in their youth.

If that describes you, here's a question: Do you remember using a seat belt in those days of yore?

For virtually every one of us who experienced school-related bus rides in prior decades, the trek from home to school and back certainly did not feature the clicking of a safety belt.

Here's why: State and federal laws mandating their use simply did not exist. In fact, some belt naysayers long argued -- in fact, some still continue to do so -- that belt use on school buses is actually inimical to safety.

That stance has certainly faded in recent years, although a growing appreciation for the safety benefits of belts on buses has not yet translated to a universal belt law in the United States.

AS pointed out in a recent article on school bus seat belts and related safety issues, six states across the country currently mandate bus belt use. Four of those states require the installation of two-point lap belts. California and Texas alone currently have laws calling for three-point (that is, lap and shoulder harness) installation.

If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has its way, the California and Texas legislation will soon be mirrored in all states across the country, given agency head Mark Rosekind's adamant declaration that seat belt use is so clearly beneficial that a universal law should be "utterly non-controversial."

The NHTSA's new position is quite different from what the agency has previously espoused, namely, that decision making on belts should be a decentralized matter best left to local school districts.

National safety regulators have obviously replaced that view with one that now favors more direct arm bending by the feds.

"Let me be clear now [that] seat belts save lives," Rosekind recently told a group of safety officials at a national forum.

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