North Carolina to Roll Out 3-Point Belt Project

Nicole Schlosser
Posted on June 15, 2016
Eleven North Carolina school districts will track the use of lap-shoulder belts on their buses during the 2016-17 school year. Shown here is one of the buses that will be used by Washington County Schools.
Eleven North Carolina school districts will track the use of lap-shoulder belts on their buses during the 2016-17 school year. Shown here is one of the buses that will be used by Washington County Schools.

Some school districts in North Carolina will begin participating in a project that will track the use of lap-shoulder belts on school buses this fall.

The project is being implemented by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's Transportation Services, which will provide replacement school buses equipped with lap-shoulder belts for the 2016-17 school year to the 11 participating school districts.

A total of 82 buses — a mix of models from Thomas Built Buses, Blue Bird, and IC Bus — will be used in the project, said Derek Graham, North Carolina state pupil transportation director. Most of the buses have already been delivered, and the rest are expected to arrive this summer.

This project builds on results from a pilot project that the state conducted in 2003 to test the technology, using 13 school buses that were equipped with first-generation lap-shoulder belt seats. The buses were piloted in about 11 counties, Graham said.

What’s different about this project is that the technology has advanced significantly, he explained, and that in order to receive the buses, the school districts’ local boards of education had to agree to support and enforce the usage of the lap-shoulder belts.

“It will be an expectation that the students riding these buses will be using them,” Graham added. “That’s the goal.”

The new project also differs from the original on another significant point. The 2003 school buses utilized a 3/2 seating configuration, based on the available seat technology at the time, which resulted in a “staggered” off-center aisle and reduced elementary capacity, according to a Carolina Thomas news release. The new seats, provided by SynTec, IMMI, and HSM, are designed to seat two or three students with lap-shoulder belts.

“This flexible seating configuration will serve school districts very well by providing the same standard-width center aisle as current buses not equipped with seat belts without reducing capacity,” said Tom Schaaf, vice president and general manager of Carolina Thomas, in the news release.

The state covers the cost of the replacement buses, and the lap-shoulder belts are simply considered an additional option, Graham added.

The rollout plan is still in progress, but will likely include training on usage for bus drivers and students, and on repairs for technicians, as well as information on the implementation project for parents, and perhaps most importantly, Graham noted, for school administrators. Researchers at North Carolina State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education are providing technical assistance, contacting districts around the U.S., and looking at best practices and recommendations.

In addition to safety benefits, Graham said that the use of lap-shoulder belts should improve student behavior, which could in turn help increase driver retention.

“The required-use policy is a key element in this project that we believe to be a real opportunity to improve student discipline and thereby help out our school bus drivers,” Graham said.

Related Topics: North Carolina, seat belts

Nicole Schlosser Executive Editor
Comments ( 2 )
  • Dwight

     | about 4 years ago

    This latest test should prove very interesting. Students can feel rewarded if a new school bus is assigned to their route when and if it is presented as a new idea for very special reasons and students feel they are an important part of an ongoing study that requires personal student usage on a daily long term basis. In the 1980s I began a concept of installing a smaller 2/3 width seat as the back seat on each side of the rear emergency door on type C (conventional) school buses. The two seats are used by four full size students rather than three students with the standard odd-ball seat arrangement. The industry standard was a 1/2 width seat on one side and a full size seat on the other side to meet the open space requirements for students to pass thru the rear emergency door for emergency evacuation but the open space does not line up with the emergency door. My back row of 2/3 width seats provide a wider open isle space for evacuation using the full width provided by the open emergency door. I designed and installed a single buckle three point belt system similar to this in 1958 for the driver position only in my 1954 Buick Riviera and later transferred it into my 1960 British Austin Healey 3000 roadster. This design was not available in USA until almost ten years later when Volvo released the patent for free world wide use. Even though I have used the single buckle three point belt system longer than anyone else in the USA, I have never excepted the single lap belt system in automobiles or school buses because of the internal injuries and deaths that I have witnessed when responding as Fire & Rescue to highway vehicle crashes.

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