MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The recently released federal report on the fatal 2006 school bus crash in Huntsville, Ala., confirmed that the bus driver was not wearing his seat belt, but it did not address how the outcome might have differed if he had been wearing it.
Still, Alabama state pupil transportation director Joe Lightsey said that the Huntsville crash points out “the continuing need for close monitoring of drivers to ensure that their seat belts are buckled, and that severe penalties should be imposed on those who fail to comply.”
Lightsey noted that since 2008, all new school buses in Alabama have been required to have audible and visual warnings for drivers if their seat belt is not buckled.
Lightsey shared with SBF his observations on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, which was released in late November.
Another of the NTSB’s findings about the driver was that he had used marijuana within the preceding week but was not under the influence at the time of the accident. “Nevertheless,” Lightsey said, “it could be inferred that for routes he had driven before that fatal day, he could have been affected by the drug. This signifies a need for even greater vigilance in driver drug testing and supervisor training.”
The school bus in the Huntsville crash was not equipped with seat belts for the students. The NTSB report said that if there had been lap-shoulder belts, “some serious injuries might have been mitigated among occupants seated away from the area of intrusion.” Lightsey said that the agency’s wording “still leaves room for speculation regarding the seat belt issue.”
Alabama is conducting a pilot study on school bus passenger seat belts, which the NTSB report said is to “examine whether installing seat belts on school buses improved passenger safety.” Lightsey clarified that the focus of the study is to yield information on passenger injuries, bus discipline and safety improvements.
“Primarily, the study will provide information on buckle-up rates and the effect of lap-shoulder belts on bus capacity,” Lightsey said.