Nick Awabdy sets the sky as the limit for school bus safety, but for now he said lap-shoulder belts provide students the most protection.
The vice president of engineering for IMMI has skin in the game, of course, overseeing the company’s evolution of the SafeGuard school bus seating systems and occupant restraints. But IMMI also manufacturers air bags, and the nine-year veteran of the company told STN this summer that the school bus presents a host of possibilities to further increase student safety.
Of course, he conceded during an Aug. 22 interview following a side-impact crash test of a semi-truck into the rear-right axle of a conventional school bus that school districts are highly sensitive to costs, which make air bags a non-starter, at least for now. It was a repeat of a crash test IMMI performed in 2015.
“It will happen,” he said of air bags, adding that the company’s side-impact testing in other vehicles shows “amazing” results in occupant protection. He explained that roof-rail curtain airbags and side or thorax airbags covering the windows could virtually eliminate any secondary body impacts during a crash, whether students are belted or not. And the roof presents even more possibilities, granted at a monetary cost not palatable for most student transporters.
Meanwhile, portions of the video shot during the August crash test aired during a "Good Morning America" segment on Oct. 30 with the full video shared at the NASDPTS Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio.
Awabdy, a 23-year veteran of commercial vehicle design, was named IMMI’s VP of engineering in March after serving as director of engineering for over eight years. He sat down with STN to discuss the newly released SafeGuard FlexPlus seat, a fifth-generation product that still features IMMI’s patented SmartFrame technology but re-imagined to make seats with or without lap-shoulder belts less inexpensive. The seating system is on display during the National Association of Pupil Transportation trade show on Nov. 7, also in Columbus, Ohio.
IMMI removed the previous “frame within a frame” technology and replaced it with a new “intelligent” system that can sense different loads on the seat, such as the additional weight of lap-shoulder belts or student passengers. Essentially, the FlexPlus seat can automatically adjust its structural strength.
The FlexPlus can also detect any permanent deformation of the seat during a crash or any impact on the seat that puts it out of compliance with the FMVSS 222 forward deflection test. This, Awabdy said, makes the FlexPlus easier and more cost-effective for student transporters to maintain.
Prior to now, school bus operators were forced to take the school bus out of service and have the seats thoroughly inspected. But the FlexPlus offers easy-to-see visual indicators – a visible green strip indicates the seat continues to comply with FMVSS 222, while a covered green strip indicates the seat must be replaced.
The result, Awabdy added, is that the price of new school bus seats and seat belts will continue to fall. That along with increased education on the true effects of lap-shoulder belts to dispel what he called “a lot of misnomers out there,” including supposed decrease in passengers per seat and hampered evacuation in the case of an emergency, will make adoption an easier decision for school districts, he said.
“Where we’ll start to see the tipping point is when manufacturers are building in greater volume,” he concluded. “We’re sitting right on the edge of that.”