Following the release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) report on the fatal Huntsville, Ala., school bus crash, two top industry officials shared with SBF their perspectives on the agency’s findings.
Charlie Hood, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the state director in Florida, said that “there are some important takeaways” in the NTSB briefing.
One is the confirmation that the bus driver was not wearing his seat belt. Although NTSB did not determine whether the driver’s ejection from the bus contributed to the loss of vehicle control and the crash, Hood said that “it’s fair to say that this crash investigation will help trainers and supervisors reinforce this important safety requirement when training bus operators or monitoring their performance.
“The few school bus operators who don’t wear their belts, or don’t wear them properly, must be reminded that in a school bus environment in particular, the safety belt not only helps prevent crash injuries, it helps prevent crashes in the first place by keeping drivers in their seats and in control of the bus,” Hood said.
Hood also noted that after a crash, the driver’s condition is critical to his or her ability to help with evacuations and injured students.
Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), also pointed to the seat belt component of the NTSB report.
“Safety belt use by school bus drivers is critical to maintaining control of the bus under all operating conditions,” Martin said.
Additionally, Martin said that NAPT was pleased to learn from NTSB that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is testing methods to provide school bus passenger protection for sidewalls, sidewall components and seat frames.
In the brief on the Huntsville crash, NTSB reiterated its 1999 recommendation to NHTSA to require event data recorders (EDRs) on school buses and motorcoaches.
Both Martin and Hood agreed that such a device would have provided valuable information on the Huntsville crash.
“While school buses maintain an excellent safety record, I hope that NHTSA is seriously pursuing this recommendation,” Hood said. “Most of the necessary electronics to achieve EDR functionality may already be standard equipment on late model school buses, so it’s possible there would be little extra cost to manufacturers and bus purchasers.”
Martin said that a recorder capturing data at a high enough sampling rate “would certainly have helped state and federal investigators seeking to make science-based recommendations for improving school bus and school bus passenger safety as a result of this crash.”