About six months after the revised final rule for FMVSS 222 went into effect to require lap-shoulder seat belts in all vehicles including school buses that weigh less than 10,000 pounds and to make the restraints systems optional in larger buses, the National School Transportation Association is seeking to influence policymakers on the development of any legislation on school bus seat belts.
The paper, "School Bus Occupant Protection: A Consideration of the Issues for State Policy Makers," was published on March 15 to address the shift of the seat belt "controversy" from the federal stage to local states and to assist state and local policymakers in understanding all the issue surrounding the school bus seat belt issue.
NSTA points out NHTSA's position that purchasing new large buses equipped with seat belts could place an additional burden on school districts that are already "strapped" for cash in the current economy. The NSTA paper also uses a NHTSA claim that a seat-belt mandate could result in an increase of 10 to 19 student fatalities each year, based on an assumption that school districts might need to reduce routes or buses because of cost increases and, as a a result, more students might choose to drive themselves or otherwise find different ways to and from school.
"It is important, therefore, that any legislation take into account the cost of replacing lost capacity, averaging about 10 percent," the paper states. "In order to be effective, legislation must also include a usage requirement, a training requirement, and liability protection."
NSTA prepared a guide to the safety, cost, and operational factors that decision-makers should consider in looking at a possible mandate. The paper acknowledges the safety benefits of three-point belts but also states that, according to NHTSA, only one additional life is expected to be saved each year because of the seat belts. On average, five students are killed each school year in school bus crashes because they are seated directly in line of the impact.
"We also recommend elements that should be included in any legislation requiring seat belts, and suggest alternatives that may be more attractive than mandates," NSTA writes.
Meanwhile, NSTA was completing its annual spring meeting in Washington, D.C., now known as the "Bus-In" that also includes representatives of other industry organizations such as the American School Bus Council. The "Bus-In" allows members to meet with congressional representatives as well as hear from federal agencies such as EPA and NHTSA.