The National Transportation Safety Board said it is awaiting responses to several recommendations made to the school bus community, including the adoption of lap/shoulder seatbelts.
NTSB said 46 of its 268 recommendations that address its 10 Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements for 2019-2020 could be implemented by the end of this year. Five of these recommendations are specific to school buses, but NTSB said it has not received a response to them from states or stakeholders.
It reiterated its call on 42 states and the District of Columbia to enact legislation that all new large school buses be equipped with lap/shoulder seatbelts at all passenger seating positions, in accordance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 222, which improves protection to school bus passengers during crashes and sudden driving maneuvers.
Iowa is one of those 42 states listed, despite passing a new state regulation to require lap/shoulder seatbelts on all newly purchased school buses as of Oct. 2, 2019. An NTSB spokesman explained to School Transportation News that states do not always notify the agency and provide information when legislation or regulations change. He added that NTSB is in the process of updating the status of both recommendations issued to the states.
The same goes for New Jersey, which is included alongside Florida, Louisiana and New York in the latest call by NTSB to update their school bus seatbelt laws to specify the three-point restraints. New Jersey updated its lap-belt law in 2017 to require lap/shoulder belts, following a fatal school bus field trip crash.
NTSB called on those same states and California to develop a handout for school districts to distribute annually to student passengers and their parents on the importance of proper use of seatbelts on school buses, and the potential harm of not wearing or properly adjusting a seatbelt, and to provide twice yearly emergency drills to show students how to properly wear their seatbelts.
NTSB also targets the elimination of road distractions. It said it is still awaiting a response from the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National School Transportation Association (alongside national associations representing the motorcoach and public bus industries and their unions) to develop formal policies for school districts that prohibit cellular phone usage by school bus drivers during routes, except in an emergency.
Charlie Hood, executive director for NASDPTS, told School Transportation News that the association has informed all of its members about the dangers of distracted driving and prohibitions on using handheld communications devices, but it has not “chronicled or documented those actions and communication in a formal response to this very old NTSB safety recommendation.”
Hood also pointed to a position paper that NASDPTS published in 2018 that highlights the requirements and best practices for school bus driver licensing, training and qualifications. In that paper, NASDPTS wrote that it hopes safety partners “at all levels, including federal and state agencies, school districts, private schools, charter schools, and contractors,” see highly publicized albeit rare incidences of distracted school bus drivers as “red flags that warrant a top to-bottom review of laws, regulations, practices, and procedures for school bus driver hiring, monitoring, and retention.”
Meanwhile, NTSB also said it is has not seen many of the major large and small school bus manufacturers implement collision avoidance systems. IC Bus is the only school bus manufacturer with a current collision mitigation solution available on its models.
NTSB also said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provided an unacceptable response that disagrees with a recommendation to require that all school bus emergency exits be easily opened and remain opened during student evacuations, in response to a 2010 school bus crash in Gray’s Summit, Missouri. NTSB said a 2016 NHTSA proposed rule to establish a new FMVSS on bus emergency exits did not address ease of use or an opening requirement. NTSB also found that the proposed window latch design would not eliminate the evacuation problems that crash investigators reported.
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