KANSAS CITY, Mo. — National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart spoke on the value of constantly perfecting safety measures on Monday during a NAPT Summit general session.
Hart assured the audience that despite the critical stance the NTSB often takes after crashes, the agency doesn’t dispute the fact that school buses remain the best method to transport students. The role of the NTSB, the chairman explained, is to uncover the errors that led to the mishap in order to prevent future incidents and avert potential injuries.
“There is no question that the school bus is the safest means of transporting children to and from school,” he added. “But there is always room for improvement.”
Using a number of bus crashes from the last few years that involved student fatalities, Hart explained that most of these incidents were caused by driver fatigue and distraction, both of which are on the NTSB Most Wanted List.
The chairman noted that it is the other drivers on the road that need to be the most aware of these issues. The prohibition of all cell phones would benefit all people when they are behind the wheel, while getting proper rest before getting on the road would further save lives.
Hart mentioned the problem of school bus drivers lying about medical problems since it prevents doctors from helping fix any health concerns.
He referenced a recent incident where a driver had omitted a blood pressure condition from his required medical examination. He passed out while behind the wheel of his school bus, which crashed, injuring the students aboard, some severely.
Yet, Hart pointed out that school bus compartmentalization is the reason most students walk away from crashes like the one mentioned above, especially since these particular children were wearing lap/shoulder seat belts.
Not all deaths aboard the school bus are avoidable, but Hart said that the addition of lap/shoulder seat belts, as the NTSB recommends, could save more lives. He added that when the agency makes recommendations, it’s taking a “holistic approach to maximize protection of occupants.”
These recommendations only come after the NTSB conducts a thorough investigation of accidents that takes into account the “totality of circumstances,” he added.
Hart showed a video that compared compartmentalization to an egg crate. The addition of lap/shoulder belts is essentially like closing the crate, the safety restraints providing the most protection possible.
While compartmentalization protects students from lateral impacts, during side-impact crashes lap/shoulder seat belts shield occupants from the risks posed by flailing limbs and “non-protected hard surfaces.”
The NTSB is an independent investigative body that is determined to enhance confidence in industries with high public interest, specifically of anything that moves.