Saturday, July 27, 2002
G O O D  M O T O R I N G

Are we safely transporting children to school?
H. Kishie Singh

WE are still on the subject of children in school buses. No Indian school bus has seat restraints for its young occupants.

Children travelling in diesel buses are more prone to cancer
Children travelling in diesel buses are more prone to cancer

There is a difference between seat belts and lap belts or seat restraints. A car seat belt is a three-point affair (it can even have four points, anchored on to the chassis). A lap belt or seat restraint is what you have in a commercial aircraft ó it is a two-point belt that holds you around the middle. This type of belt still allows the upper part of the body to move forward in an arc. The airline manufacturers know this. In case of an emergency, the airhostess instructs passengers to lean forward, head on knees with a cushion in between if possible. This is the recommended procedure.

According to the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), most children in school buses ride unrestrained. If this is the case in a developed country, it is not surprising to find lap restraints completely missing in India, which has never paid much heed to child safety. The IIHS has also pointed out that children ride without using seat belts in the front seat of cars equipped with air bags.


Unless a passenger is wearing a seat belt, the air bag can cause damage rather than prevent it. The IIHS has also noted that seat belts are used with the shoulder strap passing under the arm or behind the back. It is recommended that the shoulder strap should pass over the shoulder and then across the chest. Sarah Ferguson, vice-president (Research), IIHS, has this to say about safety as more and more cars with air bags are reaching the market: "If parents allow children in the front seat and they do not use seat belts, many more children will be at risk of injury from deploying air bags".

One of the problems with belts is that they are designed for adults. The belt could do more damage than good if it were to get wrapped around a childís neck. It is safer to have children in the back seat which has seat restraints or lap straps ó so that they have a well-padded seat in front in case of collision.

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) maintains that adults must not have children in their lap in the passenger seat next to the driverís. An adultís arms are just not strong enough to hold on to a child during a collision. The force of the collision is too strong and the weight of the adult can crush a child.

The CAA further notes, "When a vehicle stops suddenly, the passengers move with speed and force towards the point of impact. An unrestrained child may be thrown head first into the dashboard, the windshield, the back of the front seat, or out of the vehicle through windows and doors.

"Due to the small size of the children, they may not benefit from the built-in safety features inside the vehicle. On impact, children are more likely than adults to strike the inside of the vehicle with their face and head. This can cause serious injury.

"When the head strikes against something, the brain floats and "bumps" into the skull, causing swelling and pressure on the brain. Severe head injuries can cause death or result in brain damage, causing physical or mental disability.

"Children need the special protection they get from child car seats. Their soft bone structures, weaker muscles, heavy heads and smaller bodies expose them to risk of injury in vehicles," it adds.

A National Resources Defence Council and the Coalition for Clean Air report says, "Children who take a diesel school bus are exposed to four times more toxic exhaust than those who travel by car." "Children are specially sensitive to environmental hazards yet they are the ones getting dosed with diesel fumes getting to school," says Dr Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist for the council.

Bus rides over a 10-year period would result in an additional 23-46 cancer cases per million children. As many as 23 to 46 cases per million do not sound intimidating, but what if it is your child who becomes a part of the statistics?

Also keep in mind that half of all the PEPSU Road Transport Corporation buses are not road worthy. This was announced in the Vidhan Sabha recently.

Happy motoring!