The Alabama Department of Education responded to the NTSB investigation into the 2006 Huntsville school bus crash by reminding local school systems to impose severe penalties upon school bus drivers who fail to wear their seat belts.
NTSB announced last month that a contributing factor to the crash was the fact that the bus driver was not buckled up. Another car, driven by a classmate of the high school students on board the bus, attempted to pass the bus and struck its right front end, forcing the bus to hit the guard rail. The crash force threw the driver from his seat, out the bus loading doors and onto the highway. The school bus traveled several more feet down the highway before going over the side. Four high school students were killed and two dozen others were seriously injured. The driver survived but suffered severe injuries. A DOE spokesperson told STN that the driver was heavy set at well over 300 pounds.
But, surprisingly, the DOE noted, NTSB did not stress that the driver’s failure to wear his seat belt did not play a greater role in the crash. Alabama requires bus drivers to wear their seat belts at all time, and a similar recommendation was adopted into the National School Bus Specifications & Procedures document at the National Congress on School Transportation in 2005,
NTSB also recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require event data recorders on school buses and motorcoaches and to develop performance standards for school bus occupant protection systems that account for frontal, side and rear collisions and rollovers.
Shortly after the crash, Gov. Bob Riley formed a group to study school bus seat belts, which concluded that NHTSA should “act more expeditiously with regard to researching and recommending school bus safety design/performance standards.”
Two years after the crash, Alabama required that all newly manufactured school buses purchased by schools are required to have audible and visual warnings to alert drivers if their seat belt is not fastened.