ALBANY, N.Y. — The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) recently provided feedback, including concerns about bus driver responsibility and more time added to trips, on a proposed requirement for a seat belt use warning system for rear seats.
The NAPT submitted comments on Nov. 26 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on rear seat belt warning systems, the association said in a newsletter on Tuesday.
As SBF previously reported, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act of 2012 (MAP-21) directs NHTSA to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, ‘‘Occupant crash protection,’’ which would require the system, according to the docket. The standard requires a seat belt warning system for the driver’s seat, but not other seating positions.
The change that NHTSA is considering would require seat belt use warning systems for the rear seats in a variety of passenger-carrying vehicles, including school buses.
When this requirement was included in MAP-21, most people thought it was intended to require NHTSA to investigate the utilization and safety benefits of these systems primarily for rear-seat passengers riding in common use passenger vehicles such as cars, light trucks, vans, and SUVs, according to NAPT. NHTSA in this ANPRM was seeking broader public comments as to whether the requirement should extend to larger commercial vehicles, including school buses.
NAPT offered several concerns and unanswered questions for NHTSA to consider. Those include:
- If a driver gets an audible alert at each of the many stops that a seat belt (or many seat belts) was/were not fastened, what is he/she to do? Would the driver be required to walk the aisle like an airplane flight attendant inspecting the entire bus and requiring students to buckle up? Would the driver be required to refuse to move the bus until all belts are buckled? What if some kids balk?
- Would a driver be legally liable in a crash if a student is not buckled up and injured if it was ascertained that the driver got a warning that not all belts were fastened and did nothing, or not enough? Would the addition of such a system, therefore, become a de facto mandate forcing school systems to hire bus monitors to supervise belt use, adding a significant cost to state and local budgets?
- Classroom start times depend on school bus schedules and, likewise, parents rely on the school bus to arrive at the neighborhood drop-off point on time at the end of the school day. If school bus drivers were compelled to respond to audible seat belt reminders, it would likely extend the time required to drive a route.
- By the same token, what would be the impact on other motorists (often commuters during rush hours) stopped in either direction while the bus is loading/unloading? Would delays exacerbate the existing epidemic in this country (estimated to be nearly 18 million times a year) of motorists passing stopped school buses illegally while stop lamps are flashing, and for which there is a concern within our industry, pending legislation in Congress and interest by the NTSB?
- There is a national school bus driver shortage. Any belt-monitoring requirement would be still one more driver responsibility/distraction on top of many others. In addition to driving safely and on time, school bus drivers today are involved in homeland security awareness around bus stops, and deal daily with student misbehavior, including bullying and physical assaults. We believe a part of the driver shortage problem involves the increasing and complex demands of the job.
- Because children that ride in school buses are of varying ages and sizes, and smaller school buses often include children with fragile medical circumstances, we wonder if the sensors that would monitor belt usage are sophisticated enough to deal with the variations found in the school bus operating environment.
- Requiring seat belt warning systems in commercial applications with large numbers of passengers gets to a more fundamental question that NHTSA should address in its consideration of the matter: Whose job is it to enforce buckling up? Is it the driver's responsibility, or the responsibility of passengers to avail themselves of the belt and obey any applicable state law? Does the answer to that question change when the passengers are under the age of 18? Or 16?
Ultimately, NAPT suggested that school buses be exempt from the requirement and offered to discuss its concerns in greater detail with the NHSTA staff during its deliberations on this matter, the association stated in its enewsletter.
To view the docket and read other comments that were submitted to NHTSA, go here.