Frank Di Giacomo is publisher of SCHOOL BUS FLEET and vice president, bus and rail, at Bobit Business Media.
In the pupil transportation industry, we often remind the public and ourselves that the school bus is the safest way for students to get to and from school.
Federal statistics show that school buses are far safer than other forms of transportation to school, such as walking, biking or riding in a car. That record is important, and it is imperative that we continue to promote it.
But rather than resting on the fact that the yellow bus is the long-established safest form of school transportation, we need to be constantly asking ourselves this question: Could school buses be safer?
When we ask that question, we have to consider lap-shoulder belts, which has long been a contentious issue in the industry.
Not one or the other
One fundamental element in the safety design of the school bus is compartmentalization — the closely spaced, impact-absorbing, high-back, padded seats. Compartmentalization works very well most of the time, but, as the National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed, its protection is limited in side impact and rollover crashes.
That said, we need to be clear that the debate is not compartmentalization vs. lap-shoulder belts. These three-point restraint systems can work together with compartmentalization to enhance its effectiveness.
Lap-shoulder belts can help keep kids in the seating compartments — where they need to be — during a crash. Also, any passengers who don’t buckle up will still be protected to the extent possible by compartmentalization.
Equipping a school bus with lap-shoulder belt seating systems is, in my opinion, “compartmentalization plus.” It is a crash test-approved way to make the bus even safer.
In February, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) released a new position paper that makes excellent points in support of lap-shoulder belts for school buses. I encourage you to read the paper for yourself, but here’s one quote from it that I want to highlight:
“The addition of lap-shoulder belts to a school bus is a proactive measure by a school district to further enhance the safety of the students it is responsible for transporting. This measure goes beyond the minimum level of expectation for safe student transportation.”
Yes, the cost that lap-shoulder belt seating adds when buying new buses is a hurdle that has to be cleared. But we should treat that cost as a worthy investment to “further enhance the safety of the students,” as NASDPTS put it, and not as a reason to oppose lap-shoulder belts for school buses.
We as an industry have been debating this topic for a long time, and the debate will probably continue until lap-shoulder belts are mandated on large school buses (and I believe that they eventually will be).
I’ve given you my perspective on the issue. Now I’d like to hear yours. We want to provide a forum for anyone interested to discuss the pros and cons of lap-shoulder belts on school buses. Post a comment below, and see what other readers have to say.