NHTSA Seeks Seat Belt Data Collection for School Buses

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requested a public comment on a recently published proposal that will focus on obtaining data collection regarding the implementation and cost of three-point seat belts on school buses.

The proposal identifies school districts that have implemented the lap-shoulder systems on school buses, whether voluntarily or in response to a state or local law or ordinance. It also seeks to have a stronger understanding of the decisions school districts make in order to install the occupant restraints and the funds necessary to pay for them.

In addition, the proposal includes a plan to conduct a web-based survey to gather additional information regarding bus driver distractions correlating to student behavior caused by the use of the seat belts.

The project includes a three-step approach at soliciting the information from school districts:

  • NHTSA plans on contacting at least 100 individuals across the country from various associations who will identify which school districts have adopted the use of seat belts or those who are already using them.
  • After identifying who those school districts are, NHTSA will then reach out to those who have agreed to provide information. Interviews will then be conducted with State directors and local district professionals to discuss policies.
  • Finally, NHTSA will conduct a web-based survey intended for bus drivers in order to detect if bus driver distractions cause by student’s disruptive behavior due to the use of seat belts.

The findings of the study will serve as a base model in order to develop a potential policy and as a guide to assist jurisdictions that will consider the future use of seat belts on school buses. 

In 2008, NHTSA ruled that three-point lap shoulder belts were mandatory for Type A school buses, but the agency also stated that seat belts on larger buses would remain a state or local school district decision.

When Mark Rosekind, a past board member of the school bus seat belt proponent National Transportation Safety Board, became NHTSA administrator in 2015, he said he would review seat belt regulations with a fresh set of eyes. While he said NHTSA “might change things,” he never openly stated that the agency would reverse its stance that the decision to install lap-shoulder belts on large school buses should be left up to local school districts.

Then, on Nov. 8, 2015, he announced at the NAPT Summit in Richmond, Virginia, that three-point lap shoulder belts should be in all school buses yet stopped short of announcing an impending regulation to force the issue.

“NHTSA has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses. So let me clear up any ambiguity now,” Rosekind told conference attendees. “The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about.” 

The need for conclusive information on school bus three-point systems and their suggested use derived from the average number of crashes that occurred from 2004 to 2013. During this time span, an average of six school age children were killed each year as school bus occupants.

Alternatively, each year an average of eight school-age pedestrians were struck and killed by school transportation vehicles and four by other vehicles that were involved in school-bus-related crashes.