WESTFIELD, Ind. — IMMI, a manufacturer of occupant restraint systems, is concluding a pilot program to test its SafeGuard school bus seats with lap-shoulder belts at schools across the U.S.
Monroe-Woodbury Central School District in Central Valley, N.Y., was first to evaluate the lap-shoulder belt equipped seats. Last year, the district took delivery of a 16-passenger Girardin school bus equipped with SafeGuard school bus seats and, at the close of the school year, reported general satisfaction.
Cliff Berchtold, transportation director at the district, wanted to test the system further, however, as he initially had an attendant accompany the driver to assist students with the lap-shoulder belts.
Berchtold set up a new run without an attendant that involved three morning and three afternoon trips and included kindergarten, elementary and high schools students. Again, the system proved its value.
Barbara Bonchek, an administrator at Harmony School in Bloomington, Ill., reported similar success at her program. The school, a private operation with only 184 students, tested the lap-shoulder belts with two recently purchased 14-passenger buses. Bonchek said she admired SafeGuard seat’s design.
“The seats are so well-designed that if you adjust the shoulder harness properly, you don’t have to use the supplemental restraint harness with smaller children unless they’re very small,” she said.
Janice Gatliff, driver of a 66-passenger school bus at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis, observed a change in her student’s behavior after her bus was retrofitted with SafeGuard seats.
“I noticed right away that, because of the compartmentalization and the way the seats are designed, the bus was much quieter,” she said.
Capacity was reduced to 40 on Gatliff’s bus after installation of the new seats. During phase one of the pilot program, she and her students offered suggestions to IMMI regarding the height of the seatbacks and the narrowness of the aisles, which IMMI modified by phase two.
Sherilyn Thacker-Smith, director of transportation services at the Palmdale (Calif.) School District, considered adding time to her routes to compen-sate for any loss assisting smaller students with lap-shoulder belt adjustments, but found compliance more of an issue than time.
Overall, cost was the biggest factor, said Berchtold, who suggested that taxpayers will have to decide whether the safety devices are worth the investment.
“I know it’s a money issue,” she said. “But it’s $500 a seat. Three kids. You tell me which parent wouldn’t be willing to pay $150 or whatever they could to guarantee the safety of their children?”