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December 01, 1998  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Dramatic Moments Highlight 1998 NAPT Show

NTSB Chairman Jim Hall challenges the industry to 'commit' to lap-shoulder belts, while CNN's Jim Polk challenges the NAPT.

by Steve Hirano, Executive Editor, and Gary Luster, Senior Editor

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CNN exec exhorts NAPT
"It is time to stop using our children as crash dummies." According to James Polk, executive producer of CNN/Time's "Newstand," the statement was made by an attorney who was interviewed earlier this year by CNN for one of its segments on seat belts on school buses. Polk told conferees that they have become too comfortable with the notion that compartmentalization is the best protection for children on school buses. "Is there something else that can be done to better protect them? You ought to be trying to find out," Polk said. It's hard to argue with that logic. Certainly, the school transportation industry is looking for the "next-generation occupant protection system," as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has labeled its objective in a $1 million, two-year research and crash-testing program. But Polk chastised the industry for not energizing a grass-roots movement to aggressively explore the possibility that compartmentalization can be improved upon. Specifically, he urged the NAPT to bring its influence into the public arena. "Most Americans don't even know you exist," he said. "Rightly or wrongly, people already believe that [improving occupant protection] is an issue that you should be working on," Polk said. "Regardless of what your beliefs are, your purpose is safer school transportation." Michael Martin, executive director of the NAPT, said his organization is considering a "modified grass-roots campaign" in collaboration with the National School Transportation Association and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). "We are going to take up the challenge that Jim Polk issued," Martin said. "We want to let people know about all the good things that this industry does."

Route hazards discussed
Identification, information and training were the themes of a report on school bus route hazards compiled by NASDPTS under a grant from NHTSA. The report was discussed at a workshop hosted by NASDPTS Executive Director Charlie Gauthier and Diane Wigle, highway safety specialist at NHTSA. During his presentation, Gauthier identified several components that should be part of any route hazard identification system, including a system for reviewing routes and a tool for distributing hazard information to drivers. "The driver of that bus, the substitute driver, the substitute's substitute — whoever drives that bus — needs to know the route they're going to be on," Gauthier said. To get the report out to drivers and transportation officials, Gauthier will post a copy of the report on the Internet. He has already made 100 copies of the report for dissemination. Gauthier also plans to launch a massive distribution blitz, sending the report to all 10,000 school districts in the country. Gauthier asked drivers and transportation officials to make careful notice of regulatory signs and devices to prevent another commuter train-school bus disaster like the one in Fox River Grove, Ill., in 1995. Gauthier also warned drivers to be careful of large vehicles. "When a tragic school bus crash happens, 99 times out of 100 it's not because a school bus was involved in a crash with a passenger car or a light truck," Gauthier said. "It's because of accidents with big heavy vehicles such as trains, dump trucks, cement trucks and tractors."

NTSB probe update
As mentioned earlier, the NTSB is preparing a report on several school bus accidents that involved fatalities and serious injuries. The report, which is due in the spring, examines the dynamics and the body mechanics of all types of buses, including school buses. Joe Osterman, director of highway safety at the NTSB, said there are two common denominators in school bus accidents: 1) Very few people die in school buses and 2) There is no clear definition of what constitutes a school bus. "We're looking at the whole scope of the environment when it comes to bus crashworthiness," Osterman said. Traditionally, the NTSB focuses their investigations on a particular aspect of the accident, whether it be the grade crossing issue, bus crashworthiness or alcohol and drug-related incidents. But Osterman said that the NTSB decided to take a more holistic approach to its investigations due to investigators studying crashes that fall outside of a particular subset of incidents. The NTSB's more holistic approach to investigations includes studying how the impact of a school bus and another large vehicle affects what is happening inside the school bus. Osterman said that they are studying how the children are tossed around in a school bus in an effort to determine how G-forces affect passenger ejections during crashes.

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