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September 18, 2012  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Buckle up: The latest in restraint systems

As the prevalence of lap-shoulder belts in buses grows, it is important for operations to consider the type of students they are transporting and the ability to upgrade to meet future safety standards before selecting a belt system.

by Brittany-Marie Swanson


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The SafeGuard XChange FlexSeat has a flexible capacity, enabling belted seating for one, two or three students.
<p>The SafeGuard XChange FlexSeat has a flexible capacity, enabling belted seating for one, two or three students.</p>

Frazee says he has also seen numerous videos of students on a route before and after shoulder belts were installed, and that these videos indicate that lap-shoulder belts really do make an impact on student discipline issues.

“School buses are the safest form of transportation on our roads today,” he says. “They are built to absorb the energy caused in a crash, as are the seats. However, three-point seat belts enhance compartmentalization, keeping the students in the compartmentalized zone for maximum safety.”

Larry Bannon, vice president of new business development at SynTec, says that while he hasn’t witnessed  firsthand student behavior improvements as a result of seat belts, operators have reported seeing positive changes to the company. “I have definitely heard that [lap-shoulder belts improve behavior] from transportation supervisors,” he says.

Options available
Freedman’s seat belts are available with under-seat retractors, and some seating systems can be equipped with integrated child seats. The seats can also be ordered with sustainable options like bio-cushions made with vegetable oil or cloths made with recycled yarn.

With C.E. White’s current conversion seat, “You can take a C.E. White standard bench seat and convert it into a three-point child restraint in about five minutes,” Frazee says. “Also, we came out with a three-passenger, three-point seat with two integrated child restraint seats, giving the bus operator the ultimate choice in flexibility.”

SafeGuard’s new generation of seating, XChange, allows features and configurations to be easily revised as needs for the seat change with time. Operators can buy standard seats now and add or configure seat belts at a later time.

Belts should be flexible, familiar
Having lap-shoulder belts that are similar to those in a passenger vehicle will ensure that students will properly use them, according to Frazee. Belts that require minimal maintenance are also preferable.

SynTec Seating Solutions’ new S3C school bus seat has a common base and interchangeable backs, which allows for non-belted, lap belts, lap-shoulder belts and integrated child seats.
<p>SynTec Seating Solutions’ new S3C school bus seat has a common base and interchangeable backs, which allows for non-belted, lap belts, lap-shoulder belts and integrated child seats.</p>

“Finally, it is important that a seat has the flexibility to fit most any size student and not limit the height or weight in any location,” he adds.

Bannon suggests that seat maintenance should be a significant concern for operators. “One of the big issues that we tried to deal with when we were designing our [new S3C] seat was the fact when you’ve got the harnesses and/or the modules for the integrated child seats in the seat back, it’s just not as easy to replace a cover … as it is on a regular seat.”

Bannon also says that operators need to carefully consider their options if they decide to retrofit their buses.

It is important to make sure “that the bus and the seat that they are retrofitting it with are compatible; it’s not just a matter of taking one seat out and putting another seat in,” he says. “They need to make sure that the procedure is done correctly.”

Vits says operations should consider who they are transporting before they select a seating system.

“Do they plan for three elementary students to a seat, or will they always limit two students to a seat?  Will they have to transport any pre-K children or infants? What about transportation of students with special needs?” he asks.
 
Belt usage continues to grow
“I think that the trend toward lap-shoulder belts is probably — because of the economy and tight school budgets — not moving as fast as I think it normally would,” Bannon says. “But definitely we are still seeing school districts, whether [belts are] mandated or not, heading that way.”

Despite the budget challenges, Vits is also certain there are going to be a lot more lap-shoulder belts on buses.

“The major trend we have observed is a greater acceptance by school districts of all sizes for new buses equipped with lap-shoulder belts,” he says.

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