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School Bus Safe Could Be Even Safer, Advises Safety Group

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety included the increased use of seatbelts and technology on school buses as strategies to reduce U.S. traffic fatalities, which reached a 16-year high in 2021.

The 2023 Roadmap to Safety published last week by the alliance of consumers, health and medical experts, insurance companies, law enforcement, and safety groups said more than 115 people are killed on the nation’s roads every day. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated in May that about 42,915 traffic deaths occurred in 2021, the most since 2005 and a 10.5-percent increase from 2020, when COVID-19 shutdowns reduced vehicle traffic nationwide for most of the year.

Without providing further detail, the report concluded that increasing school bus safety through technology and increased seatbelt usage could help bring those numbers down. It added that NHTSA identified lack of seat belt use as one of “three major behavioral factors” that “largely explain” the large increase in all crash fatalities between 2019 and 2020.

However, NHTSA data indicates school buses are about eight times safer than other vehicles. According to NHTSA, the school bus passenger fatality rate is 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in cars.

In 2020, one school bus driver and one student passenger died in school bus-related crashes, while 42 occupants of other vehicles, six pedestrians, two cyclists, and two “other non-occupants” died in those same incidents, according to NHTSA.

To date, nine states require three-point, lap/shoulder seatbelts in new school buses. The Ohio Parent Teacher Association recently called its state to enact similar legislation and for local school districts to voluntarily add the occupant restraint systems. Meanwhile, this week’s report gave Ohio a red-light score for having no primary enforcement seatbelt laws for either the front or back seats of vehicles plus not requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Twenty-two other states also received the “Danger” warning for having one or zero optimal occupant protection laws in the books.

Only two states, Louisiana and Washington, require by law that children ages 12 and younger ride in the rear seats of passenger vehicles. Thirty states don’t have laws requiring infants be restrained in rear-facing car seats through age 2, and 34 states don’t have booster seat laws. No state has all three laws in effect.


Related: Don’t Forget About Seatbelts Amid COVID-19, STN EXPO Indy Panel Reminds
Related: Louisiana Bill Would Remove Funding Requirement to Install School Bus Seatbelts
Related: Collision-Avoidance Among NTSB’s Most Wanted Safety Features, OEMS Weigh In


Meanwhile, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety report called for collision avoidance systems, occupant detection and alert technology to prevent “hot car” incidents, rear seat belt reminders, technology and vehicle hood and bumper standards to prevent rollovers, and side impact crashes for children. The report did not specifically mention any of these technologies for school buses.

The alliance is also recommending red light cameras and automated speed enforcement. The federal $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act prohibited states from using federal funds from the Highway Safety Improvement Program and the Highway Safety Grant Program to purchase, operate or maintain automated traffic enforcement cameras, except for those located in school zones. That law expired in October 2020.

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