A spokesman for The C.E White Company said its new ergonomically correct driver's seat that can require the three-point seat belt to be latched before the vehicle can start is expected to be available by next month.
An initial version of the MDP-2012, short for Maximum Driver Protection, was on display in late October at the NAPT Summit trade show in Cincinnati. Steve Frazee, director of product and OEM development, said the seating option for Type C conventional and Type D transit-style school buses must still be crashed tested by the vehicle manufacturers.
Frazee said a minimum amount of wiring was performed at the base of the seat to require the arm rest to be locked in the down position and the lap-shoulder belt be fully latched prior to the vehicle ignition being engaged. Bob Knapp, executive vice president, added that this interlock will be offered as an option to school bus operators who wish to have the functionality.
An alarm will also sound if the driver unlatches the seat belt while operating the bus.
The concept began after C.E. White reviewed the causes of several high-profile school bus crashes over the past several years, especially the pre-Thanksgiving 2006 crash in Huntsville, Ala., that killed four high school students and injured dozens of others as they were headed to classes at a vocational school.
Initially the school bus was struck by a passenger car while traveling on a highway overpass. The bus then struck a guardrail, the force of which threw the school bus driver from his seat and out of the loading doors. The National Transportation Safety Board found that the driver was not wearing his seat belt.
The unmanned bus then struck a guard rail again and plunged 30 feet over the side before striking the ground nose first.
The MDP-2012 was also developed in partnership with an ergonomics consultant to ensure proper lumbar and femur adjustment and support to accommodate drivers large and small, tall and short. The features also are designed to limit driver fatigue, and a 185-inch seat belt webbing and dual retractor that eliminates the need for an extender.
Frazee added that C.E. White is working with a GPS provider to log any instance of a driver unlatching the seat belt when operating the school bus, and a notification will be sent to the transportation department office.