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Seat belts protected children in local school bus crash


Some special needs students and others aboard a school bus that collided with a Cadillac in Lancaster were spared serious injuries and likely have seat belts to thank for it, according to law enforcement.

The injuries of those aboard the bus ranged from moderate to minor in the crash reported about 7:15 a.m. Tuesday at 20th Street East and East Lancaster Boulevard, according to the California Highway Patrol, who added that all of the students appeared to be wearing seat belts.

But 55-year-old Robert McLafferty of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., who drove the Cadillac, suffered critical injuries, the CHP said. Lafferty was driving his 2001 Cadillac north on 20th Street East at an unknown speed, when he entered the intersection of East Lancaster Boulevard and collided with the school bus driven by 60-year-old Rosario Torres of Lancaster, who was driving at 40-45 miles per hour, the CHP added.

The front of the school bus struck the left side of the Cadillac, causing the bus to spin out of control and roll onto its side and strike a wooden telephone pole, the CHP said. The pole was severed at the base.

Both drivers, two aides and five of the eight students on the bus were taken to hospitals for their injuries.

The cause of the collision was under investigation.

The accident brings up a long-standing dilemma: Why don’t more school buses have seatbelts? Primarily, cost is the determining factor based on a study conducted a few years ago by the Alabama State Department of Education that found it could cost more than $30 million to outfit all of the state’s school buses with seatbelts. The bus in the Lancaster crash was a smaller vehicle—weighing less than 10,000 pounds—and those busses are mandated by the federal government to have seatbelts. Larger buses—like the standard long yellow school bus that make up about 80 percent of the nation’s fleet—are much heavier and their passengers sit much higher and closer together, reportedly making them safer in collisions.

Federal education and transportation agencies have traditionally let the states decide if they want to outfit the larger buses with seatbelts. Also, designers of modern school buses don’t trust children to latch themselves in if not reminded, therefore they use a passive system called “compartmentalization” with the seats spaced tightly and covered with a thick four-inch foam.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that about 440,000 public school buses carry 24 million children more than 4.3 billion miles each year to and from campus.