A June 2006 report by the National Transportation Safety Board released a national status report on implementing pupil transportation safety recommendations as part of its "Most Wanted List" of recommended transportation safety improvements. It found a majority of states have failed to take any action on following up on SAFETEA-LU, federal law passed in 2005 that prohibits nonconforming vans in school bus transportation and closes a loophole that previously only penalized dealerships from selling the vehicles to school districts.
The NTSB reported that 25 states from Connecticut to Hawaii had taken limited or no action, including the District of Columbia. Another 15 states had implemented limited or partial restrictions on so-called 15-passenger vans, and only 10 states prohibited the vehicles from transporting children to all schools and day care centers.
In February 2004 the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services released the results of a survey of State Director members that found 29 states have laws or regulations that prohibit the use of vans for transporting public school students to-and-from school and school-related activities.
Meanwhile, a 1997 National School Transportation Association (NTSA) national survey found that 22 states at the time still allowed the use of 11-15 passenger vans in pupil transportation, albeit regular transportation or certain special activity trips. Only six states prohibited the use of smaller eight to 10 passenger vans for student transportation. Some states have since enacted laws that prohibit the vehicle altogether, though they are not required to do so. Regardless, all public school districts are now prohibited by federal law from purchasing or leasing these non-conforming vans for use in any form student transportation whatsoever.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), the reauthorization of the congressional highway bill enacted in August 2005, closed a loophole that previously banned only the manufacture or sale of these non-conforming vehicles "knowingly" for the purpose of pupil transportation to school districts. The new provision bans the illicit purchase of these vehicles by public school districts. Fines range from $10,000 for the first offense up to $15 million. Private and parochial schools, day care facilities and colleges and universities are not affected. Some schools still use the non-conforming vans to transport teachers and staff.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have found that the vehicles are prone to rollovers when at or above capacity. Foremost is the fact that passenger vans (generally carrying eight to 15 passengers) are not required to be manufactured to the same federal motor vehicle safety standards as traditional yellow school buses. For example, FMVSS 111, 131, 220, 221 and 222 are not required in the manufacture of vans. As a result, these vehicles do not provide the same degree of occupant protection to passengers that school buses do.
The entire issue of van safety in school transportation came to a head with the 1994 when 6-year-old Jacob Strebler was killed after an 18-wheeler slammed into the 15-passenger van carrying him and classmates to a swim lesson. The vehicle did not meet federal motor vehicle safety standards.
Transport Canada, the nation's equivalent of NHTSA in the United States, published an October 2012 paper that examined two non-conforming van crashes and the results of a "Paired Side-Impact Crash Testing of a 15-Passenger Van and a MFAB (Multifunction Activity Bus)." The vehicles studied were a 2011 Ford E350 15‐passenger van and a 2011 Girardin MFAB with crash-test dummies onboard secured with lap-shoulder seat belts. During the tests, the dummies slipped out of the restraint systems. The severity of the tests wassubstantially greater than the severity of tests that are conducted for regulatory compliance and consumer safety rating side impact protection programs.Transport Canada concluded that inflatable curtain technology can reduce the risk of head injury for "struck-side" occupants. Meanwhile, countermeasures to limit occupant ejection from the shoulder portion of the seat belt and prevent subsequent occupant to occupant contact in all types of passenger vehicles are still under development. But Transport Canada added that a potential candidate measures may include improved designs of restraints and seats and the introduction of in‐board side airbags.
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