NHTSA's seat belt summit looms

Posted on July 1, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has scheduled a day-long public meeting to discuss passenger crash protection on school buses, with a focus on the possible safety benefits of seat belts. The meeting is slated for July 11 in the nation's capital.

The meeting will comprise four panel discussions moderated by NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason. Also scheduled to attend are U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Announcement of the meeting was published in June in the Federal Register, with the following details.

One of the panels will address state and local policy perspectives regarding seat belts on school buses. Panelists will discuss the requirements for providing school transportation, their considerations in determining whether or not to require seat belts and the challenges faced in implementing the use of seat belts on school buses.

The panelists will also discuss studies or surveys that contributed to their decisions regarding whether or not to require belts on large school buses. Also to be discussed are the type of seat belt system (lap or lap-shoulder) selected for use, if applicable; how that selection was made; the effects of reduced seating capacity in lap-shoulder belt-equipped school buses; and any adverse effects resulting from the need to provide transportation for the same number of students after the installation of belt systems will be discussed.

The second panel will address seat belt system designs that are currently being offered in large school buses. Technologies with seats or seat belts will be presented. Discussion will also focus on costs of buses with and without belts, sales, the performance specification for seat belts used on buses, experience with manufacturing of belts for buses and lessons learned from installation of belts on buses. Manufacturers' perspectives on retrofitting existing school buses with new seat belts will also be discussed.

The third panel will focus on the economic impact that implementation of seat belt requirements for school buses have on states and local school districts. Discussion will include the purchase and maintenance costs associated with the seat belts in large school buses, consequences or implications of increased costs for belt-equipped buses and how school districts handle the effects caused by the increased cost. Discussion will also include the service lifecycle of school buses, any changes resulting from incorporating seat belts and whether there are state laws/regulations that mandate a maximum lifecycle for either the belts or buses.

The final panel will address the experiences of states that use seat belts on school buses. The panelists will discuss their experiences in training and educating children, parents and drivers, including the impact on emergency evacuation training and procedures. Experience in actual belt usage and enforcement will also be included. Finally, it has often been argued that not requiring seat belt use on school buses sends a mixed message about the importance of using seat belts and establishing a habit of buckling up. Studies or other data to support this will be discussed.

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