You would never, ever allow your child to ride in the car without a seat belt (and of course, the appropriate car seat or booster seat). But when he goes off to school in the big yellow bus, chances are good he won’t be buckled up — because the bus probably doesn’t have seatbelts.

That could change in the future. In a reversal of position, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) now says all school buses should have three-point seat belts for the children on board.

Previously the organization said the belts weren’t necessary because buses are already safer than passenger vehicles, and that they would be too expensive to add. According to CBS News, they cost between $7,000 and $10,000 per bus, which, with nearly half a million school buses in the United States, could add up to billions.

In a statement, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind admits “has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses.”

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However, in a speech on November 8, Rosekind said, “The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”

More children who don’t ride school buses are injured or killed getting to and from school than kids who do ride school buses, Rosekind says. About 450 children die each year in personal vehicles traveling to and from school. The NHTSA estimates only four children die each year on a school bus. But just last month, a school bus in Virginia flipped over, injuring 28 children. It did not have seatbelts, according to CBS News.

Currently, only six states require seat belts on school buses: California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Louisiana. Rosekind says it will be a challenge to get more states to follow suit given the time the rule-making process takes and the cost involved. But, he adds, “Whenever a safety issue becomes haggling over dollars and cents, safety suffers. This is about children, and we need to focus on them.”

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The National Safety Council (NSC) applauded the NHTSA for its change of heart. “Three-point seat belts are required for school bus drivers and are now required in all of our personal vehicles. As states have changed their laws, it is important for all organizations, including the federal government, to update safety standards,” the NSC said in a statement.

The bottom line, Rosekind says, is this: “How can we not want every child who rides a school bus to have the protection of a three-point belt? And how can we not work to remove every barrier to that basic safety protection?”

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Angela is a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide. Prior to joining SafeBee, she was the features editor for at The Boston Globe, overseeing health, travel, entertainment, business and lifestyle coverage. Before moving to features, she was the news and homepage editor, covering stories such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Red Sox World Series victories, presidential elections, a papal inauguration, and more. Her favorite safety tip: Clean your phone! The average cell phone has 18 times more germs than the toilet handle in a men’s restroom.