Denise Donaldson, editor and publisher of Safe Ride News as well as a certified child passenger safety instructor, demonstrated the mechanics and safety benefits of the five-point harness securement system during the virtual Transporting Students with Disabilities and Special Needs conference on Monday.
Donaldson explained that it is essential to use harness systems that couple children to the school bus seats, similar to the secure harnesses that astronauts or race car drivers use. The five-point harness system secures the child at both shoulders, hips and between the legs. Child safety restraint systems (CSRS) are designed to keep children secure while also keeping the child as comfortable as possible.
Donaldson demonstrated the proper technique for securing a child in the five-point harness system. The shoulder straps should be adjusted at or above the shoulders for forward-facing seats and at the armpit level. Hip straps can be adjusted and tightened as needed so that the securing strap between the legs is positioned in front of the child’s body.
While Donaldson emphasized that student transporters should be able to slip a finger between the harness straps and the child’s body, she recommended using a safety check commonly referred to as the “pinch test.” It is used to ensure the straps are tight enough by checking that no excess strap material can be pinched between one’s fingers.
Donaldson showed how the CSRS is equipped with slots that allow for adjustable strap positioning. This design provides comfortable transportation as children grow and allows for one’s seat to be used through multiple stages of a child’s growth development.
The CSRS can be used in both rear-facing and forward-facing seats. She recommended that infants be transported in rear-facing seats to provide the maximum amount of protection from severe paralysis and/or death in the event of a crash or other emergency.
Donaldson also addressed questions from school bus operators and other transportation specialists about how to quickly evacuate children from the bus in an emergency. For children in rear-facing seats with a handle, she said they can be safely lifted and carried from the bus. In the case of older children in forward-facing seats, Donaldson said that the red release button would be an effective way to release the straps quickly. However, the straps can also be cut, if necessary.
Amid concerns about the spread COVID-19, Donaldson spoke on the importance keeping the CSRS sanitized by cleaning regularly with non-harsh solutions, such as warm water for belt buckles and mild detergent for the straps and plastic areas of the seat. She also explained that it’s important to keep an eye on wear and tear from usage, such as frayed straps, that could lead to decreasing the effectiveness of the safety harness. She mentioned that the harnesses can be replaced without having to change out the entire seat.
Donaldson answered questions about buckle guards being added to the safety harness system and stated, “The manufacturers would say not to use add-on products like that, which haven’t been tested with their products. It is generally better to use behavioral approaches to prevent unbuckling. However, there are some CSRS made that do meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 that also prevent persistent escapism if behavioral modification isn’t possible.”
While Donaldson said that a certification is not required to install a CSRS in school buses, it is recommended that installers are educated on the workings of the safety restraint systems. There are certification courses available such as the Child Passenger Safety Technician training, as well as the eight-hour Child Passenger Safety on School Buses course approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that is normally taught at the onsite TSD Conference and STN EXPO conferences.
Donaldson recommended seeking the assistance of a trained safety technician when installing CSRS. She recommended https://cert.safekids.org (under Find a Tech) to find a technician in a select area.
Donaldson concluded the session by reminding TSD attendees there is more in-depth information regarding student transportation safety in the “The School Bus Safety Handbook,” one of the many resources available on her website.