NBC’s “Today” show served up fear for millions of American parents with its sensational coverage of a new study on school bus injuries. But in doing so, reporter Tom Costello left out just how safe school buses are compared to riding to school by automobile, and that studies have shown seat belts actually do more harm than good when used on school buses.
“Before you put your kids on the school bus this morning, listen to this. A new study reports far more children are being injured in school bus accidents than anyone ever thought,” anchor Meredith Vieira told her November 6 audience as she introduced a report by correspondent Tom Costello.
Costello began his story, “Danger on Board,” with footage of mangled school buses as he rattled off injuries from three school bus accidents. While the correspondent went on to list numerous safety measures newer school buses are manufactured to comply with, he insisted that “safety advocates say something critical is missing” – seat belts.
Costello brought on study co-author Dr. Gary Smith of Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, to insist that seat belts were necessary in part because children “could have a very serious head injury, and those are the types of injuries that we fear the most when we see these children.”
The NBC reporter later added a plea from the mother of an Ohio teenager who suffered a concussion in a bus accident.
“Why aren’t our kids buckled up on the bus? They need to be,” Laurie Garno insisted, before Costello closed his story posing the question “How much protection is enough, when it involves the most precious cargo?”
In doing so, Costello stacked the deck in favor of new laws mandating seat belt use. Yet he left out evidence that shows that children can get worse injuries from seat belts on buses than without, according to government studies.
Reporting on a rival network the same morning on the bus safety study, CNN’s David Mattingly began his story live inside a school bus in Georgia. “There are so few fatal injuries on school buses every year that your child is actually 8 times safer” riding the bus to school than in “the family car,” he said.
“Adding seat belts and shoulder straps actually caused more injuries to the head, neck, and abdomen,” Mattingly noted over footage of crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Anchor Soledad O’Brien asked Mattingly whether bus seat belts were considered harmful to small children. Mattingly answered that they were and what’s more, “The seats have to be further apart, it costs more to put seat belts into a bus, and you have less capacity.”
Mattingly, unlike Costello, also hinted at another factor to school bus safety: personal responsibility.
The American Academy of Pediatrics study, the CNN reporter noted, “also says that better supervision and better behavior on the part of students” could “go a long way on cutting down that number of injuries.”