The list of national organizations making their support for lap-shoulder seat belts on school buses crystal clear continues to grow more impressive and harder to ignore. The NTSB is the latest to definitively add its name.
“We have always tiptoed around the issue of seat belt usage [and] lap-shoulder belts in school buses,” NTSB Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt admitted during a recent board meeting regarding investigations into high profile school bus crashes in Baltimore and Chattanooga. The NTSB went on to recommend that 42 states with no current seat belt requirement, “enact legislation to require all new large school buses be equipped with passenger lap-shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions.”
For states like New York, New Jersey, Florida and Louisiana, that already mandate seat belts, the NTSB recommended an upgrade in requirements from lap belts to lap-shoulder belts. Equipping new buses with three-point belts is the common approach for upgrading a fleet over time, but districts that want to be proactive with their existing buses have options, especially if their buses are made by IC Bus. For all buses 2010 and younger, IC features the BTI seating system, which allows for a quick and easy upgrade from lap belts to lap-shoulder belts or integrated child seats, by switching seat backs. A full retrofit is unnecessary.
While the NTSB went on record with its firmest statement of support yet, it should be noted they are actually a long-time proponent of lap-shoulder belts on school buses and have done more to advocate for them than any other government agency or organization. NTSB officials have studied crashes firsthand, run the simulations, and have scientific proof that seat belts on school buses make a difference. In recent years, the NTSB even went so far as to produce a video on the benefits of wearing seat belts on school buses. (Watch the video at the end of this article.) The NTSB findings and statements following the devastating Nov. 2017 crashes in Baltimore and Chattanooga put to rest any doubt where NTSB officials stand on the issue.
And they are not alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Safety Council, National PTA, and millions of parents, want seat belts on school buses. Three-point belts are proven to save lives and reduce injuries in school bus crashes, experts note, especially when compartmentalization fails in side impacts and rollovers.
These organizations have studied the issue extensively, have separated fact from fiction, and have seen that adding lap-shoulder belts does not reduce capacity, slow evacuations, or add potential weapons to a school bus. What lap-shoulder belts do is better protect students, with the added benefits of reducing bullying, improving behavior, decreasing driver distraction, and improving driver satisfaction, at a time when drivers are in high demand.
Many school buses now travel further than ever on interstates and highways, where they run at greater speeds surrounded by vehicles just as large and heavy as they are. The days of school buses sticking only to slow side streets is over. As a result, children need more protection than they did 10 and 20 years ago. School transportation has changed, and the NTSB recognizes that the methods used to protect students need to evolve as well.
As Chairman Sumwalt said numerous times during the meeting, “Safety demands oversight that puts lives first.” Doing so means following the NTSB’s new recommendation and installing or upgrading to lap-shoulder belts on our nation’s school buses.
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