BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The University of Alabama (UA) has released a report on the results of its study exploring the implementation of seat belts on school buses.
The three-year project was conducted for the Governor's Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts and the Alabama State Department of Education.
"This has been my favorite research project in a 35-plus-year career," said Dr. Dan Turner, the UA professor who led the study. "Most people in life never have an opportunity to work on a project of this magnitude, especially with such dedicated people. I am grateful that the Governor's Study Committee had the foresight to realize that someone needed to do this research, and the courage to step forward and organize the project in Alabama."
Joe Lightsey and Brad Holley of the pupil transportation section of the Alabama State Department of Education also helped manage the project, Turner said. "They exhibited deep concern for pupil safety at each step over the past three years," he noted. Four other UA faculty members, five staff members and 19 students helped conduct the research. "[They] knew that the outcome of this project would be a driving influence in future pupil safety," Turner told SBF.
The study examined the rate of seat belt use, the effects on bus discipline, the attitudes of stakeholders, the loss of capacity attributable to seat belts and the cost-effectiveness of the belts.
Key findings of the study include:
• The addition of seat belts would make already-safe school buses even safer.
• Based on 170,000 observations of pupils in pilot-project buses, this project established an average seat belt use rate of 61.5 percent.
• This study found thicker seatbacks and fixed buckle spacing could cause capacity losses of 5 to 18 percent, depending on the configuration of seats and rows. The bus fleet would need to expand 5 to 18 percent to offset the capacity loss.
• Using methodology from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in which the cost of an equivalent life saved is equal to $32 million to $38 million, researchers determined that the net benefit for seat belt implementation over one fleet life cycle would be between -$104 million and -$125 million. The negative net benefit suggests using more cost-effective safety measures rather than implementing seat belts across large school bus fleets, the researchers said.
• Most school bus pupil fatalities occur outside buses in or near loading zones. According to the researchers, if funding is to be spent on school bus safety, it appears more lives could be saved by investing in enhanced safety measures in loading/unloading zones. These treatments are likely more cost-effective than seat belts, the researchers said.
To read the full study report, click here.