Concerns about health, student safety and the environment dominated the Monday sessions of the 2015 NASDPTS Conference with numerous recommendations from a variety of agencies to improve current standards and ensure the future remains bright.
Stopping short of announcing imminent rulemaking to usher in a national requirement for lap-shoulder seat belts in school buses, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind shared a new federal policy position that the occupant restraints should be available for all schoolchildren to and from school.
For months, the school bus industry has been abuzz about what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would do about three-point seat belts in school buses, and the verdict may soon be in as NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind takes the stage on Sunday at the 2015 NAPT Summit as a keynote speaker. Rosekind is expected to reveal the next course of action in this debate.
Christopher Hart has been an NAPT Summit fixture for the past several years. The heir to Deborah Hersman as chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board in 2012, Hart first spoke to NAPT attendees and those attending the concurrent NASDPTS Annual Meeting while still serving as vice-chairman, namely about the need for lap-shoulder seat belts on school buses, as well as collision warning systems, lane departure systems and active braking and adaptive.
In response to the recent bus crash in Houston that killed two students, Texas lawmakers are again calling to make seal belts mandatory. An earlier state effort to provide students with lap belts and shoulder harnesses stalled due to a lack of funding. As of now, there is no federal rule that requires seat belts on school buses. Texas lawmakers have required school buses purchased after 2010 to include seat belts for each passenger, but this rule only applied if the state paid for the buses. The only school buses currently outfitted with seat belts in the Lone Star State are designed to transport special needs students. About 1.4 million pupils ride school buses in Texas each day, and most don't wear seat belts of any kind. The state initially promised $10 million in grants, with four districts receiving $400,000 to buy buses, but budget cuts ended the program. The Texas Association for Pupil Transportation has considered adopting a position to encourage, but not require, lap belts and shoulder harnesses on school buses. Currently, only six states require seat belts on large school buses.
The School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to determine if the structural integrity of the school bus seating and restraint system needs to be changed, stating that it is in the best position to undertake an analysis of FMVSS No. 222. The request came in response to a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation regarding three-point belts for school buses.