Two key school transportation groups have written to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to express their concerns about his agency’s new stance on school bus seat belts.

The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) jointly wrote to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind in a letter dated Dec. 21. The message is in response to Rosekind’s remarks at the NAPT Summit in November, in which he said that NHTSA’s new position is that “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”

In their letter to Rosekind, NAPT and NSTA urged his agency to more thoroughly investigate the impact of three-point belts on school bus transportation.

“We are not opposed to seat belts, but for us this issue is about two things — decisions that are supported by science and data and ensuring that as many children as possible have access to the safest environment in which to travel to and from school,” the associations wrote.

Before Rosekind’s remarks in November, NHTSA’s previous policy statement about school bus seat belts was a 2011 denial of a petition to mandate three-point seat belts for all school buses. In that petition denial, NHTSA argued that the costs imposed by a national requirement for the restraints could lead to a reduction in school bus service, which in turn could cause an increase in student fatalities.

In their recent letter to Rosekind, NAPT and NSTA asked the administrator to clarify whether the agency intends to rescind its 2011 petition denial and the rationales that it set forth.

Also, the two associations asked NHTSA to give further consideration to the economic impact of the agency’s new recommendation that all school buses have seat belts.

“The economic impact includes many components, such as: the actual seat belt costs; additional driver and passenger training to ensure use; passenger monitoring to ensure proper use; and potentially longer route times due to ensuring compliance, which could ultimately [affect] school bell times,” the associations wrote.

NAPT and NSTA also urged NHTSA to more carefully examine other potential issues, such as whether three-point belts could impede emergency evacuation of school buses, and who would be responsible for ensuring that students wear the belts properly.

The two associations also asked to be included in a Jan. 27 meeting that NHTSA has planned to discuss the topic with representatives of the six states that have passed school bus seat belt legislation.

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