The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has exempted school buses from a recent mandate that all heavy trucks and large buses, including motor coaches, be fitted with electronic stability control (ESC) systems.
The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) contended during the comment period that a new federal mandate should not apply to school buses because of a lack of necessity for the ESC system. NSTA pointed out that school buses are one of the safest forms of travel for students and eight times safer than riding in family vehicles. And, NSTA added, the cost of adding ESCs to school buses would reduce the number of school buses on the road and, as a result, the number of students transported nationwide.
NHTSA agreed, also citing research that ESC systems help prevent roll-over crashes, but these events are much more common for large over-the-road buses. In fact, NHTSA said its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) demonstrates more than 70 percent of fatalities on large buses were related to cross-country intercity bus crashes.
NHTSA also pointed to a report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) that determined that most school bus rollover or loss-of-control crashes are incapable of being prevented by ESC systems.
The ESC system maintains directional control when the driver's own steering and braking isn't fast enough to prevent a crash, operating instantly and automatically.
NHTSA also exempted transit buses from the final rule because, like school buses, they operate fixed, stop-and-go routes.
A number of organizations, including Consumers Union and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), recommended the ESC requirement for school buses. However, the NHTAS ruled in favor of exempting school buses from the mandate.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the decision for all heavy trucks and large buses, noting that ESC has already saved lives in smaller passenger vehicles.
"Requiring ESC on heavy trucks and large buses will bring that safety innovation to the largest vehicles on our highways, increasing safety for drivers and passengers of these vehicles and for all road users," said Foxx.
Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, which builds safety technology, applauded the decision. "This technology is another positive step on the part of our industry toward helping to further improve highway safety," said Fred Andersky, the company's director of government and industry affairs.
The increased adoption of ESC systems, Andersky noted, demonstrates the willingness by fleets to reduce the number of heavy truck accidents and improve safety records.
"Because of the ruling, trucks will be safer, drivers will be safer, and all of us who share the roads with them will be safer," said Andersky.
NHTSA estimated that its final rule will prevent as many as 1,759 crashes, 649 injuries and 49 fatalities each year.
"It's a win for the safety and convenience of the traveling public and for our economy," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.
The ESC mandate will be implemented for most three-axle tractors starting Aug. 1, 2017. It will take effect in three years for buses larger than 33,000 pounds and four years for those weighing between 26,000 and 33,000 pounds.