ALBANY, N.Y. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced recently that it has begun testing new lap-shoulder belt systems for school buses, but the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) had its own announcement for NHTSA.
The association called on the federal agency to ensure that its testing of the belt systems is comprehensive before issuing a recommendation on them.
“We expect NHTSA to give this matter the full scientific attention it deserves,” NAPT President Bill Tousley said. “[We] reiterate our call for them to reevaluate school bus passenger seating and crash protection with the goal of establishing a safety system that will definitively enhance the current passenger crash protection for all children that ride a school bus.” In NHTSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to enhance school bus occupant protection, issued last fall, the agency said that the combination of lap-shoulder belts and compartmentalization would provide “optimum protection,” but it did not propose to require them on large school buses. The agency said that it plans to issue a final rule early next year.
“NHTSA must get this decision right,” NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin said. “We expect them to do a full range of dynamic testing to justify any changes they recommend and, equally important, ensure there are no unanticipated consequences that put children at increased risk.” Also on the seat belt front, NAPT issued a statement applauding Alabama on the launch of its study of the practical aspects of lap-shoulder belts in large school buses.
The first portion of the state’s three-year study is being conducted by the University of Alabama’s University Transportation Center for Alabama. Twelve new buses were equipped with various types of lap-shoulder belts. Four video cameras were installed in each bus to capture information about student behavior and usage. Also, parents and school officials were given questionnaires to get their views.
“Alabama is to be commended for adding much needed, common sense information to the body of knowledge,” Tousley said. ”This, along with crash tests and data analysis, is critical and long overdue to help put to rest the question of whether school buses should have lap-shoulder belts.”