Following up on its previously stated support of three-point seatbelts for the safer transportation of students to and from school, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) published a new position paper that details how states and individual school districts can best go about introducing the occupant restraint systems on school buses.
“As an association with a primary leadership role in issues relating to student transportation safety, environmental responsibility, and access to education, NASDPTS fully supports requiring the installation and use of lap/shoulder belts in all new school buses,” the organization wrote in the paper released on Thursday. “States and local jurisdictions must have policies requiring that all students use the belts and must train them on how to use the belts properly.”
NASDPTS members at state departments of education, motor vehicles and public safety approved the paper on Wednesday. The latest position supersedes and replaces the paper “The Equipping and Use of Passenger Lap/Shoulder Belts in School Buses,” which was published in 2014.
The association concluded that state directors of pupil transportation and state pupil transportation associations should work together to ensure that legislators and other state policymakers are educated on the existing safety record of school buses.
“Their discussions should emphasize the added safety benefits provided by lap/shoulder belts and the need to ensure that funding levels and service requirements support the availability of school buses to serve parents’ and students’ needs,” NASDPTS added.
NASDPTS continued that school district training on seatbelt usage by students must include the proper use and adjustment of passenger restraints as well as require the participation of students in regular school bus evacuation drills that include exercises on how to unbuckle the systems. NASDPTS also calls for school bus drivers or other “designated personnel” to provide a safety briefing to all passengers of field and activity trips that highlights the required use of the seatbelts, the location and use of emergency exits, and the location of emergency equipment.
NASDTS also advised that states and school districts should also implement related enforcement of usage and policies, notices and training.
While it generally does not recommend the retrofit of existing school buses with the lap/shoulder seatbelts, NASDPTS wrote that it does support the authority of individual school districts to make such a decision, as long as the issue has been thoroughly researched and the project is deemed safe and feasible.
For example, school districts may need to install new, reinforced flooring to accommodate the increased weight and anchorage requirements of seats equipped with the seatbelts. However, industry vehicle and seating manufacturers for years have offered bench seats that can be quickly converted to the seatbelts, without the need for extensive retrofits.
“When retrofitting is being considered, NASDPTS strongly recommends that local jurisdictions research all the issues relating to compatibility with the bus and its existing equipment, recommended and proper installation, feasibility, and potential liability,” the paper adds. “Advisers in these matters should include school bus dealers and manufacturers, seating manufacturers, local, state and federal regulators, the jurisdiction’s risk management personnel, and legal counsel.”
The paper also shared nine supporting points as to why lap/shoulder seatbelts should be required. These include the reduction of student injuries, previously approved technical standards by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the limitations of compartmentalization in side-impact and rollover crashes, “essentially” no reduction in passenger capacity, the complementary relationship between lap/shoulder belts and the ability of students to make it to emergency evacuation exits, the minimized possibility of the latest lap/shoulder seatbelt designs being used as weapons by students, reduced school district and driver liability, and the confirmed compliance of students wearing the restraints when the district implements a usage policy.
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