DOT Rule to Beef Up School Bus Safety

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters rode a school bus today, buckled in with a three-point seat belt along with several schoolchildren, to highlight a new federal proposed rule that will require higher seat backs and set new seat belt standards for the nation's 474,000 school buses. "Our proposed rule would make children safer, put parents at ease, and give communities a clearer picture of how to protect students," Peters said. "It's never too late to learn, especially when it comes to protecting our children."

Beginning one year after the rule goes into effect, all new school buses would be equipped with 24-inch seat backs. This height, up from the current 20 inches, will better protect child passengers by helping keep older kids and adults from being thrown over seats in a crash, hurting themselves and others, Peters said.

"Even the smallest changes can make a big difference," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Nicole Nason. "The higher seat backs will help provide children with even greater protection in the event of a crash."

The proposal also requires all new small buses, which are more prone to roll over than full-size buses, to be equipped with three-point belts within three years of the new rule taking effect. This will replace the current lap-belts-only requirement, Peters added. For large buses, the proposed rule for the first time would provide federal standards for seat belts for school districts that make the decision to add them. Peters said the federal government would allow school districts to use federal highway safety funds to cover the additional cost of equipping buses with seat belts to encourage greater use.

The proposed new rule is based in part on information gathered during a public meeting on school bus safety NHTSA held in July. At that meeting, Peters challenged state and local government policymakers, school bus manufacturers, pupil transportation associations, and consumer groups to help develop new ways to make school buses even safer. In a written statement released after the meeting, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services said it favored compartmentalization of school buses over the use of lap belts because of "credible cumulative research indicating that lap belts can, in some crash situations, cause head, neck, abdominal, and spinal injuries to young children whose bodies are not yet fully developed." However, in the report, the association added that it has "adopted no subsequent position favoring or opposing the use of lap/shoulder belts in conjunction with compartmentalization in large school buses."

The bus in which Peters rode is in service at a school that was one of the first in the country to equip some of its new buses with seat belts. Public comments on the proposed new regulations will be accepted for 60 days. To view the proposal, go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

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