NASDPTS changed its formal stance on the installation and use of three-point lap/shoulder seat belts on school buses from supporting them only if funding is available to fully championing them, regardless if districts have money or not, in a forthcoming position paper.
Max Christensen, president of NASDPTS and executive officer of school transportation for the Iowa Department of Education, made the formal statement on the third day of the association’s conference held in Grand Rapids, Mich. He stressed the group is neither recommending the installation and use, nor asking that lap-shoulder belts be required on school buses.
“We believe this should be a local decision based on local need,” he said. “We are simply taking a leadership role supporting the installation and use of lap-shoulder seat belts in school buses.”
He added that NASDPTS’ position paper on this topic would soon reflect its new position.
The issue of whether or not to support the installation and use of either lap belts or three-point lap/shoulder seat belts on school buses has been a controversial one for the past 25 to 30 years. Christensen noted the NASDPTS board of directors spent “a considerable amount of time” discussing whether or not the association, or the industry as a whole, should support this, but he noted that the topic “just won’t go away.”
He explained that, for many years, the association that represents all the state directors of student transportation nationwide has supported the installation and use of lap/shoulder restraints — if funding was made available. Its 2007 position paper on the topic reflects this stance, but only after the group first states: “The NASDPTS board of directors has adopted no subsequent position favoring or opposing the use of lap/shoulder belts in conjunction with compartmentalization in large school buses.” This stance was based on NHTSA’s April 2002 report “School Bus Safety: Crashworthiness Research” and a June 2002 report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences called “The Relative Risks of School Bus Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment.” NASDPTS’ 2002 position paper on this topic is based on these two reports.
The association produced its 2007 position paper after a “thorough review” of its 2002 paper, and wrote “little has changed since the release of the  paper that would cause NASDPTS to alter significantly the organization’s position on compartmentalization, lap/shoulder seat belts, or lap belts in large school buses.”
However, the association continued that it recognizes the American public expects school buses to be as safe as possible, and believes that belt systems similar to those in passenger vehicles should be installed in new school buses. The group also recognized that state legislatures regularly consider, and some have enacted, laws requiring lap/shoulder belts in school buses.
Therefore, it stated: “As stated in the 2002 NASDPTS paper, ‘if funding were made available for the installation of lap/shoulder belts in school buses, the State Directors Association would support their installation’.” The 2007 paper was produced after NASDPTS made this announcement at its annual conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., six years ago.
In his announcement, which sparked again controversy among NASDPTS members, the executive board members as well as attendees of the NAPT Summit, Christensen said many in the industry know that funding is not currently available, and he doubted that anyone thinks it would become available anytime in the near future.
“Thus, our position seemed to be a non position,” he said.
After the conference, Christensen told STN: “This topic has occupied our time, our conversation and our collective psyche for over a quarter of a century. It’s time our industry makes a decision, takes a stand and moves on.”