Lap-shoulder seat belts recommended for school buses.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recommended that school buses have lap-shoulder seat belts. NHTSA Administrator Mark R. Rosekind made the announcement Sunday to a national audience of school transportation directors at the joint conference of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) in Richmond, Virginia, Ryan Gray reported for School Transportation News.

Safeguard for Kids, also covering the event, wrote that it was a “momentous” announcement, adding:

Many of those opposed to seat belts on school buses often claim NHTSA is against them by misquoting a former NHTSA ruling. While NHTSA is stopping short of a mandate, in all likelihood to protect cash strapped districts from such an expense at this time, no one can continue to deny that the biggest regulatory automotive agency in the country is onboard with adding lap-shoulder belts to school buses.

More Research Sought

NASDPTS last year recommended the seat belts be on all school buses, providing that districts can afford them without requiring student riders to find other ways to get to school. Last month, NAPT issued a statement asking NHTSA to explain “clearly and unambiguously” why local districts should add “optional equipment like seat belts” instead of other choices that might improve school transportation safety. NAPT, along with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), has also asked for more scientific research on the effectiveness of seat belts in school buses.

In response to that question, Rosekind said that data makes the answer clear. Half of the 30,000 traffic deaths annually in the U.S. occur at least partly because seat belts were not worn. In addition, 70% of teen deaths in traffic accidents are related to the teens not wearing seat belts.

Safety Consideration

Although Rosekind did not announce rule making, he said there are other methods other than mandates for getting districts to add seat belts to school buses. “[But] how can we not want every child who rides a school bus to have the total safety afforded by three-point belts?” he asked.

Before Rosekind made the announcement recommending the three-point seat belts, NHTSA had said that because of cost factors, any decisions regarding whether or not to add self belts to school buses were best made by states or local school districts. The agency had taken the position that adding the seat belts might save “only” a couple or more student lives a year.

‘Seat Belts Save Lives’

Rosekind said, “Let me be clear now: seat belts save lives.” He said every child on every school bus ought to be wearing one, and that the matter is “utterly non-controversial.”

School Bus Safety banner from NHTSA.

The NHTSA’s School Bus safety page, which the agency will be updating early next year.

Rosekind said the NHTSA will be updating its website’s School Bus Safety page early in 2016, Rosekind said. He said the agency will also improve its crash reporting data for school buses to include speed and distraction data, as well as illegal passing data.

Safeguard for Kids offers the following suggestion to parents of school-aged children:

With NHTSA’s endorsement, now more than ever is the time to push your district to do the right thing. We still have plenty of work to do, but one of the oppositions’ main talking points has been clearly and irrevocably demolished. One less excuse stands in our way as we advocate to make school buses as safe as they can be for our kids.

Photo by maxym/123RF.

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