The children on the bus go round and round


Sometimes in the buzz of our world a little black hole opens up to create a communications vacuum. This entails a noteworthy cause that almost everyone would say is important, if you asked them, but one that almost no one does anything about.

Like school bus seat belts.

Each year in the U.S., 440,000 public school buses travel more than 4 billion miles to daily move 25 million children. Ah, children. U.S. parents do anything to keep them safe. We outlaw lead paint, get mad at China for shoddy toys, and when transporting our own tots, strap them into mandatory child seats and drive off in modern cars equipped with air-bags, side air-bag curtains, crumple zones, headrests, daytime running lights, and anti-lock brakes.

But send a child to school, and they don’t use seat belts. Today’s kids enter a bus with technology that hasn’t changed much since Dr. Frank Cyr and his friends at Columbia University decided to paint buses yellow in 1939. The last serious innovation in school bus technology came in 1977, when the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards created construction standards to make sure school bus roofs do not collapse when they roll over. No one talked much about the little heads rolling around inside, or whether seat belts would keep those heads in place.

This void in communications is intriguing, since demand for child safety seems to be high and bus accidents happen all the time. Google “school bus accident” and the screen fills with news reports. This past summer, a school bus fell off a collapsing bridge in Minneapolis. Counselor Jeremy Hernandez was called a hero for helping kids get off the bus, but he told CNN that as the bus fell surrounded by tons of crashing concrete, he and others flew over the seats. Just yesterday, on Nov. 10, another school bus in Hanover Township, Pa., crashed over an embankment after two wheels fell off. A few — just five — states have done something about this, with lap belts now used in NY, NJ, California and Florida, and Alabama Governor Bob Riley announcing on Nov. 6 that his state will “test” seat belt usage on, ahem, 12 buses across the entire state.

We don’t know why the case of missing school bus seat belts, like some others, fails to cascade communications. Perhaps there are only two things that drive human awareness: Private profit or public advocacy. If profit can be made, marketers build advertising plans to get the word out. If advocates are impassioned, Al Gore gives Apple Keynote presentations until we all believe in global warming. But for pedestrian, boring, complicated causes, such as investing in little black belts for little laps, the message just falls into a vacuum.

Sort of like a yellow school bus sliding toward the Mississippi River.

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