Several small school bus manufacturers were named in a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board to make lap-shoulder seat belts standard equipment, in response to a fatal, head-on collision last year in Texas between an impaired driver and a church bus.
NTSB on Tuesday recommended to eight bus manufacturers—including REV Group, owner of the Collins Bus brand; Forest River, Inc., the manufacturer of Starcraft Bus; Girardin Blue Bird, the joint venture to manufacture and market Micro Bird buses; and Thomas Built Buses—that they install lap-shoulder seat belts in all newly manufactured medium-sized buses.
It also recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration increase the minimum anchorage spacing or individual seat belt assemblies to account for dynamic testing of seat belt designs, seat belt fit and vehicle configuration.
NHTSA already requires lap-shoulder belts on similar-sized, Type-A school buses.
Jack Young, now 21, pleaded no contest in May to 13 counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of intoxication assault for his role in the March 29, 2017 crash on U.S. Highway 83 near Concan, Texas. Nearly 15 minutes of cellphone video taken by another motorist and released by NTSB earlier this month shows Young’s 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 pickup truck driving all across the road for miles, weaving between the right shoulder, the center dividing line and the oncoming lane.
The released video ends moments before Young slammed into the 3004 Ford E-350 Turtle Top Van Terra medium-sized bus operated by the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas. The 66-year-old bus driver and 12 of the 13 elderly passengers were killed. The 13th bus passenger and Young suffered serious injuries.
The NSTB investigation concluded that Young was impaired from marijuana use and a double dose of clonazepam, a sedative prescribed to treat seizure and panic disorders. The NTSB on Tuesday recommended that national leadership is needed to help identify science-based countermeasures for implementation at the state and local levels, to prevent related crashes from occurring.
The NTSB also determined that the church bus was equipped with lap belts in rows one through four, with all 12 passengers in those seats wearing the occupant restraints. But the crash caused upper body flailing over the lap belts, which NTSB said concentrated the load in the pelvis and abdomen region, and exacerbated the injuries. Additionally, NTSB found that four bus passengers seated in the rear row of bench seats suffered worse injuries, because the lap-belt anchorage points were too narrow.
“Most medium-size bus manufacturers offer passenger lap/shoulder belts as an option, but they are not required,” NTSB wrote. “Because lap/shoulder belts provide a greater level of protection, bus and seat manufacturers should move toward providing them as standard, rather than optional, equipment for all seating positions on medium-size buses.”
NTSB also called on NHTSA to develop and disseminate best practices and model specifications for oral fluid drug screening devices that law enforcement can use during traffic stops.