A proposal to require school bus drivers to verify that flip-up seat cushions are latched before their pre-trip inspections will be submitted to the National School Transportation Specifications & Procedures in response to the National Transportation Safety Board investigations into fatal crashes last year in New Jersey and Florida. A separate proposal includes guidelines to assist training of drivers, students and parents on correct seat belt usage.
The School Bus Manufacturing Technical Council (SBMTC) and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) on Wednesday made the respective announcements in response to the NTSB investigations that were released in September. The proposed requirement and guidelines will be presented at the May 2015 National Congress on School Transportation (NCST) that is charged every five years with updating the national specs adopted by states.
NASDPTS said it will provide the guidelines on proper fit of both manual lap belts, adjustable lap-and-shoulder belts and flexible seating systems to its members. It also will develop educational materials on lap and shoulder belts providing the highest level of protection for school bus passengers, and would advise states or school districts to consider adding the three-point systems when purchasing new school buses.
At its annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., in October, the NASDPTS Executive Board updated its position on three-point seat belts published in 2007 by adding support for the occupant restraints regardless of cost.
"This topic has occupied our time, our conversation and our collective psyche for over a quarter of a century," Max Christensen, NASPDTS president, told STN. "It's time our industry makes a decision, takes a stand and moves on."
The new statement coincided with a presentation at the concurrently held NAPT Summit by NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart, who reviewed NTSB's findings and recommendations stemming from the Feb. 16, 2012, crash in Chesterfield, N.J., and the March 26, 2012, crash in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Both crashes involved a school bus and a commercial truck, and resulted in "severe" lateral impact collisions.
NTSB found that the student fatality in the New Jersey crash resulted from a failed seat pan. It recommended that the school bus industry establish and safeguard the structural integrity of the entire school bus seating and restraint system, including the seat pan attachment to the seat frame, for severe crashes, particularly lateral impacts with large-mass vehicles.
SBMTC reviewed the investigation and responded to the NTSB in a Dec. 3 letter. It stated that it will request that driver inspection of the seat cushion latch be introduced at the NCST in Warrensburg, Mo. But SBMTC Chairman Ken Whisnant of Thomas Built Buses pointed out in the letter that the NTSB report provided no details on how the failure of the bottom cushion caused or contributed to passenger injuries, and that the Port St. Lucie bus was manufactured nearly five and a half years before the October 2009 final revision of FMVSS 222 by NHTSA that added the self-latching requirements to the seat cushion retention.
This regulation, he added, effectively established the safeguarding of school bus seating and restraint systems recommended by NTSB.