The California Highway Patrol credited lap-shoulder seat belts with preventing severe injuries to special needs students in a recent school bus crash.
A press release from the CHP revealed that a model-year 2010 Type A Collins school bus operated by Coachella Valley Unified School District was on its morning route Friday when a 29-year-old driver swerved his car into bus' lane and hit it head-on. Both vehicles were severely damaged, and the bus flipped onto its right side.
"Due to the fact that the school bus overturned, it was very important that the children were seat-belted in," CHP spokesman Officer Mike Radford told STN. "They would have definitely sustained some sort of injury in an overturned vehicle collision but because they were strapped into their seats, they were not hurt."
The car's driver was not wearing a seat belt but the school bus driver, monitor and all three special needs students onboard were. CHP said that the drivers of both vehicles were taken to the hospital with "major injuries" while the monitor sustained minor injuries and the students were uninjured. On Monday, CVUSD Director of Transportation Apolonio Del Toro said that the bus driver was still in the hospital with leg injuries that are not life-threatening.
"The seat belts did help. The children were using them and they didn't have any major injuries whatsoever," Del Toro told STN on Monday morning. "They're in school today."
The California Highway Patrol said that it is not known at this time if alcohol or drugs played a part in the crash, but confirmed that the car "was traveling at a high rate of speed and passing multiple vehicles" before it hit the bus.
California law requires lap-shoulder belts on all sizes of school buses purchased or leased after 2005. The vehicle code adds that buses so equipped should be prioritized for elementary students. Meanwhile, federal regulations only require the three-point seat belts on Type A small school buses like the one involved in the Coachella crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration leaves the decision to equip larger school buses with lap-shoulder belts to states and local districts, though former Administrator Mark Rosenkind recommended the occupant restraints for all school buses in November of 2015. The current administration has yet to weigh in on the issue.
All CVUSD special education route buses have the occupant restraints, as do 12 of the district's regular route buses. Del Toro said that the district tries to put elementary grades on buses with seat belts and that these younger students generally wear the equipment unlike older students.
"If there's a seat belt, we try to get them to use it but that's not always the case for the high schoolers. When they're little and the driver buckles them in, they seem to think that's normal, that's what Mom and Dad do. But as they get older that's a little harder to get done," he explained.