Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 26, 2005


Page 7



Unintended Consequences




(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District, which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County.

They mean well. They really do. Unlike accusations I’ve heard lodged against conservatives over the years, I really don’t believe my liberal colleagues are trying to kill children, or even that they don’t care if children die. In fact, I believe that much of what they are trying to do is sincerely aimed at saving and helping children and consumers, homeless people and sick people, puppies and fairy shrimp, and all those other nice things liberals are known to care about.

Unfortunately, most of the liberals I know are plagued with a complete ignorance of basic economics. As such, they are not very good at predicting how the real world will react to their well-intentioned mandates and programs. A current example of this sort of fuzzy-headed thinking is the new “safe school bus” mandate that takes effect July 1st.

This extremely well meaning new law will require that all new school buses have lap-shoulder seat belts. Since we have all gotten used to the idea of being required to wear seat belts in our cars, it seemed strange to them that the one place kids do not have to wear seatbelts (and in fact couldn’t even if they wanted to) was in the government-provided buses that take our children to their government-provided schools. It seemed like a no-brainer that we should start providing these seat belts in school buses, too, right? Well, politically, yes. Practically, no.

All else being equal, wearing seat belts is safer than not wearing seat belts. But all else is rarely equal. First of all, buses are already extremely safe. In fact they are by far the safest way for children to get to school today. On average 5-7 children per year are killed nationwide while riding on a school bus. But then, there is the cliché “If it saves just one life, isn’t it worth it?”

As always, the reality is trickier than that. There is good evidence that while the seat belt mandate may slightly decrease the number of deaths on board those particular new buses, it will actually increase the number of school children killed overall! .

The new buses are expected to cost thousands of dollars more per bus. But more importantly cost-wise, they would carry 1/3 fewer students. That means schools will have to spend significantly more money to update their bus fleets, and hire more drivers to drive the extra buses required to carry the same student load as before. The schools continually complain of the shortage in school funding.

That shortage is even more critical in school transportation funding. Some school districts have completely discontinued bus services, and many more are considering it. Many districts already charge families a fee for their children to ride the bus, and this would cause that cost to rise. In many school districts a child must already live a certain distance from the school in order to qualify for bus service — up to five miles in many districts.

It is certain that there will be districts that will have to further restrict or cancel their bus services entirely rather than pay for the newer, “safer” buses, which will carry fewer students per bus.

What does that mean? More children will be forced to walk, or to ride to school in private automobiles. Both alternatives are far less safe than an “unsafe” school bus. The school bus fatality rate on the current bus fleet is .01 or less per 100,000 population. Walking to school results in 10 times the fatalities, as does driving with an adult in a private vehicle. Riding to school in a car driven by someone younger than 21 (e.g. an older sibling or a friend) is 30 times more dangerous than riding a so-called “unsafe” bus!!!

Because more children will be forced to seek an alternative means to get to school, there is no doubt in my mind that more children will be put in harms way by this mandate than will be saved. The unintended consequences of this law will be some kids riding marginally safer buses, while many more kids will be subjected to much less safe rides to school.

While I’m sure the liberals who passed this feel-good, sounds-good bill thought they were doing a good thing, their lack of understanding of the realities of economics and the decisions that have to be made as a result of their mandates will almost certainly CAUSE MORE CHILDREN TO DIE!!! But that’s not the point. After all, they meant well...


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