ABC’s Good Morning America aired video taken during a crash test between a semi-truck and a school bus in August that also previewed an upcoming session at the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio.
The Aug. 21 event at IMMI, parent company of school bus seating and occupant restraint manufacturer SafeGuard, sought to recreate a fatal side-impact crash that occurred in Port St. Lucie, Florida in 2012. A subsequent National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded that three-point, lap-shoulder seat belts could have reduced injuries and potentially saved a 9-year-old boy’s life.
The Port St. Lucie school bus struck at its right-rear axle was equipped with two-point lap belts per state law. NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said lap belts could increase the number of abdominal injuries to students in a crash and that lap-shoulder seat belts provide enhanced protection. NTSB added that the three-point restraints complete school bus compartmentalization, or the protective envelope provided to students by cushioned, high-back seats.
Compartmentalization is most effective in front- and rear-impact collisions, NTSB added, but side-impact and rollover crashes allow students to fall and sometimes fly out of the seat compartment, when chances for serious injury or death increase.
The most recent test at IMMI’s Center for Advanced Product Evaluation, which previously only hosted frontal-impact or rollover tests for school buses, showed the difference in protection between crash dummies belted in the company’s new SafeGuard FlexPlus seat and those that were unbelted in a standard school bus seat during a side impact.
IMMI added in a statement on Monday that the results support why the NTSB, NHTSA, NASDPTS, and the Academy of Pediatrics all recommend three-point seat belts on school buses. The belted “students” remained in their seats, while the unbelted were not protected. One was ejected out of the window of the bus as it swung 90-degrees clockwise after being hit by the truck.
NASDPTS will feature the entire video during an opening session on lap-shoulder seat belts at its conference on Nov. 5. The association published a position paper three years ago that encouraged school districts to implement three-point belts when feasible and affordable as well as promoting mandatory student usage on school buses equipped with the lap-shoulder belts.
A common argument against school bus lap-shoulder restraints is cost. School Transportation News readers have reported that adding three-point belts can add as little as $3,000 to $10,000 to the price of a new school bus.
“If you can break it down to a low enough level where you can tell a parent, ‘Hey, you give me twenty bucks every year, I can put lap-shoulder belts on your school bus.’ I don’t think there is a parent out there that would disagree with that,” said Mike LaRocco, state director of student transportation for the Indiana Department of Education and the president-elect for NASDPTS.
Seven states currently have laws requiring seat belts in large school buses, but only three mandate lap-shoulder seat belts. California’s law went into effect in 2005, and earlier this year Texas strengthened its existing law to remove a requirement that occupant restraints be funded by state lawmakers.
Nevada also passed a law this summer requiring three-point belts in all school buses by next school year. But as Nevada’s state director Diana Hollander pointed out following the IMMI event in August, school districts don’t need a state law to act.
“Districts have the authority to make policies, and (each state’s) department of education has the authority to make policies,” added Hollander, who is also NASDPTS president, “and we are going to mandate that drivers encourage children to wear their seat belts.”
Learn what school bus drivers are saying about how lap-shoulder seat belts are affecting onboard student behavior in the November 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.