HomeSeatbeltsNAPT Asks Feds for Clarification on Benefits of School Bus Lap/Shoulder Seatbelts

NAPT Asks Feds for Clarification on Benefits of School Bus Lap/Shoulder Seatbelts

Following a fatal student ejection during a school bus crash in in western Ohio, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) called on federal agencies to clarify their positions on and the potential efficacy of lap/shoulder seatbelts inside the school buses.

In an email sent on Thursday to members, NAPT CEO and Executive Director Molly McGee-Hewitt offered condolences to the family of elementary student Aiden Clark as well as to Northwestern Local Schools in Springfield, Ohio, located about 30 miles northeast of Dayton. The crash Tuesday morning, the first day of school, resulted when a van driven by Hermanio Joseph, 35, crossed the center line of State Road 41 and into the path of the oncoming school bus. Joseph’s vehicle hit the bus, after the bus driver tried to avoid the collision, causing it to overturn.

Fifty-two students were onboard, with 23 suffering injuries, one critical. The school bus driver was wearing a seatbelt and suffered minor injuries. There were no seatbelts available to the students.

McGee-Hewitt noted that the school bus is the safest form of transportation for the nation’s school children, and parents should know that their children are riding the “absolute safest vehicle on the road.”

Significant Safety Conclusions According to Seatbelt Safety Advocate

 

1. Children are routinely killed & injured in school bus crashes & sudden stops in the U.S.

2. Current Ohio school bus safety features are INADEQUATE to protect children fully from injury & death in school bus incidents

3. Compartmentalization (Padded Seat Back Theory), the primary school bus safety theory, routinely fails in crashes with serious consequences for the children (NTSB*

4. 1200 school bus crashes occur every year in Ohio (OSHP)

5. Protection by seat belts from injury & death in vehicle crashes has been known for more than 55 years (1968.)

6. Seat belts as a safety tool are needed to enhance the protection of children in school bus crashes

7. Seatbelts improve student behavior & decrease driver-caused crashes

8. Recommendations (NHTSA-NTSB & OH PTA) & governmental requirements (22 percent States & Beachwood school district substantially support the installation of seat belts in school buses.

9. Substantial evidence exists for seat belts being considered a “Standard of Care” for school bus safety.

10. School districts have increased risk for unlimited compensatory damage awards in litigation that occurs following school bus crashes where seat belts are not available for student use (Ohio Tort Liability Act).

11. Three school districts (Avon Lake-Hudson-Beachwood) in Ohio have purchased new school buses with seatbelts

12. Three City Councils (Sandusky-Lorain-Vermilion) have recommended that their school districts conduct Seatbelt Installation Pilot Programs.

13. Over the lifetime of the bus, the cost for adding seat belts to a new school bus is <0.5% of the total cost for transporting a student for a year ($1000)

“Clearly, when a fatal accident such as this one occurs, the potential benefits of seatbelts seem apparent, particularly when a child was thrown from the bus,” she said. “To be fair, many in our industry would point to times when the seatbelts could cause further risk of injury or fatality. This would include cases when there are fires on the school bus or when a school bus rolls over and encounters water along rivers, streams, lakes or bays. As a result of such questions and uncertainty, NAPT has sought a clear determination as to the net benefits of seatbelts for many years.”

She continued, adding that there have been decades of debate and research on the use and installation of lap/shoulder seatbelts in school buses. She noted that while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires the belts on smaller school buses, it has never been mandated the systems on larger buses. Instead, NHTSA issued a recommendation in 2015 that states should consider lap/shoulder seatbelt use independently.

Additionally, Hewitt added that the National Transportation Safety Board has called for mandating seatbelts following several investigations of fatal school bus crashes, the most recent being a 2021 Decatur, Tennessee school bus crash involving a service utility truck and a school bus with 22 students on board. The school bus driver and a 7-year-old student passenger were killed.

 


Related: Ohio PTA Shows Support for Seatbelts in School Buses
Related: NTSB Investigation of Fatal Tennessee School Bus Crash Reiterates Seatbelt Calls
Related: Don’t Forget About Seatbelts Amid COVID-19, STN EXPO Indy Panel Reminds


However, NTSB recommendations have not been adopted by NHTSA.

McGee-Hewitt concluded her email by stating that the NAPT urges federal agencies to clarify their positions on lap/shoulder seatbelts and provide clear direction and guidance to states and school districts in relation to the efficacy of seatbelts on school buses.

“We will work with NHTSA and other federal agencies in such an effort and abide by their determinations in the interests of safety,” she wrote. “In the meantime, we urge all involved in school transportation to make informed determinations that meet the needs of their children and their school communities, including especially parents of those children.”

In the meantime, McGee-Hewitt urged student transporters “to make informed determinations that meet the needs of their children and their school communities, including especially parents of those children.”

Days before the fatal crash, Rudolph Breglia, a school bus seatbelt safety advocate in Ohio, provided School Transportation News with safety conclusions about seat belts that he has gathered and shared with several school districts in the state. Those efforts have contributed to Avon Lake Schools near Cleveland implementing a lap/shoulder seatbelt pilot program in 2019. Several other school districts are considering a similar move. But Avon Lake passed on adding the seatbelts to its most recent school bus purchases.


Related: Cleveland-Area Students Successfully Petition for Local School Bus Seatbelt Ordinance
Related: Louisiana Bill Would Remove Funding Requirement to Install School Bus Seatbelts


“Lap/shoulder seatbelts are low-cost, proven effective, safety tested, required for some states and school districts, widely recommended; federal/state allowed, and a basic safety tool that resolves the most significant current inadequacies,” Breglia opined.

Currently, only California, Texas, Nevada, New Jersey and Iowa require the use of lap/shoulder seatbelts in school buses. Arkansas law requires the lap/shoulder belts if funding allows. Two states, Florida and New York, require at least lap belts on school buses.

Related: Seat Belt Resources

A Louisiana law for lap belts has never taken effect because funding has yet to be appropriated by the state legislator. A bill introduced in 2021 aimed to remove the funding requirement to install seatbelts in school buses, however, it died in the chamber.

Yet nearly every U.S. state has considered lap/shoulder legislation within the past five years and all states have some districts with lap/shoulder seatbelts installed, according to a chart provided lap/shoulder seatbelt manufacturer Safeguard.

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