HAVERHILL — It was a minor accident in which a car collided with a van bringing students to school.
But school officials said the four children who were riding in the van yesterday were likely protected from injury because they were wearing seat belts.
The incident has added local fuel to a statewide debate — whether seat belts should be required in all school buses, not just those transporting small numbers of children or special education students.
“As state and public safety officials promote the use of seat belts, there is no doubt in my mind that all children should be buckled in when vehicles are moving,” Haverhill School Superintendent James Scully said yesterday. “Today’s accident amplifies the point of the necessity of seat belts.”
Scully said that if the children in the van were not wearing seat belts, they might have been injured, even though the accident was a minor one and resulted in a dented rear bumper on the van and damage to the front end of the Audi which collided with the van.
In recent years, some lawmakers have pushed for changes in public safety laws that would require the installation of seat belts in all school buses in Massachusetts. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in the country and are seven times safer than passenger cars and light trucks. And because of the unique impact-absorbing design of large school buses, children are protected without the need for seat belts, the administration said.
The administration also said children are at greater risk of being killed while boarding and leaving a bus than inside the bus, and from accidents involving passenger car transportation to or from school.
According to federal motor vehicle safety standards, school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds must be equipped with lap or lap/shoulder belt restraints because vehicles in this weight class are closer to that of cars and small trucks, which are required to have seat belts.