The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration formally denied a request from seatbelt manufacturers SafeGuard/IMMI and C.E. White regarding a 2013 petition to allow for a built-in booster seat provision, consisting of a school bus seat with a lap/shoulder belt and a shoulder belt height adjuster, in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
However, Charlie Vits, market development manager for SafeGuard said the decision published in Tuesday’s Federal Register was only a formality and has no new impact on school transportation. “The denial causes no change to current lap-shoulder belt school bus seat designs and testing,” Vits told School Transportation News.
Vits explained that eight years prior to the new lap/shoulder seatbelt regulations of October 2011, questions arose regarding the height adjusters of lap/shoulder belts and location of buckles, which at that time were anchored farther forward in seat cushions compared to the current design.
He said that in early talks with NHSTA, SafeGuard was encouraged to take advantage of a detail in FMVSS 213 that would enable parent company IMMI brand to certify its lap/shoulder belts as FMVSS 213 compliant built-in booster seats. Vits recalled that at the time, an NHTSA official expressed concern that the use of a typical add-on booster seat would result in a higher center of gravity, which when combined with the harder school bus seat cushion could leave less available excursion room for ride down in a crash.
“By certifying the lap/shoulder belt school bus seat as compliant to FMVSS 213, many childcare agencies such as KinderCare as well as Head Start organizations used our seats to comply with restraint requirements for older and larger children,” Vits said.
However, when the new lap/shoulder seatbelt seats went into effect in October 2011, which accounted for flexible seating to seat three smaller or two larger students per row, the more defined regulations made it difficult for school bus seat manufactures to interpret the ability of lap/shoulder belts equipped seats to be defined and tested as built-in booster seats. Vits said after discussing it with NHTSA staff, they requested SafeGuard submit a petition to NHTSA Chief Counsel to clear up the questions.
“So, in January 2013, together with C.E. White, SafeGuard submitted this petition on behalf of all those using lap/shoulder belt seats as built-in booster seats,” Vits explained.
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Messages left with a spokesperson for HSM Transportation Solutions, the exclusive manufacturer of C.E. White School Bus Seats, seeking comment were not returned at this writing.
The Jan. 15, 2013, petition called on NHTSA to revise the wording in FMVSS 213 to recognize a school bus seat with integrated adjustable height lap/shoulder belt systems as a built-in booster seat.
Vits shared that in subsequent discussions with NHTSA, staff said they did not think lap/shoulder belts could ever be interpreted as a booster seat. Vits said SafeGuard accepted that response. No further communication arose until this month.
NHTSA’s Denial for Petition cites that children would be less protected under the suggested amendment, as it would allow designs that unreasonably reduce the full benefits of booster seats. It would also not address the risks of submarining, or when an occupant can slide under the lap belt during vehicle deceleration, and abdominal injuries that the agency said booster seats presently address.
NHTSA continued by stating that booster seats are found to be effective in reducing child passenger injuries in passenger vehicles, whereas children ages four to eight using lap/shoulder belts have been found to be at a higher risk of abdominal injury due to the belt interaction.
“The denial analysis and conclusion is valid for current lap/shoulder belt school bus seats,” Vits said. “In the eight years since the writing of the petition, school bus seat design has changed. Anchorage locations for the lap belt portion have shifted rearward, causing lap belts on young children to rise higher on their abdomen resulting in poor fit.”
Meanwhile, Vits added that the eight-hour, hands-on Child Passenger Safety on School Buses class approved by NHTSA, discusses the proper installation and use of child restraints for transporting prekindergarten through kindergarten students, which is offered at the STN EXPO Indy and Reno. He said the class instructs that booster seats are not to be used in school buses.
For children that need or are required to use an FMVSS 213 compliant child restraints, he said there are options for add-on restraints as well as built-in child restraints rated to 85 pounds.
“These devices may not always be as convenient as using the existing lap-shoulder belt system, but they do result in [a] better fit which provides greater safety and protection for the young child,” shared Vits, who teaches the NHTSA seminar.
He advised that those with questions and with the responsibility of transporting p-k students take the NHTSA course when available and seek help from trained technicians when any questions arise.
Editor’s Note: School Transportation News made multiple attempts to contact NHTSA for more information but had not heard back at this writing.