NAPT Urges NHTSA to Reevaluate Safety Belts in School Buses

The National Association for Pupil Transportation yesterday responded to a recent announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it will delay until next year a final decision on whether to recommend safety belts in large school buses. NAPT reiterated its long-held belief that NHTSA must conduct comprehensive testing and a complete situational analysis before issuing any regulation or recommendation that changes the school bus occupant compartment.

NAPT President William Tousley, Transportation Supervisor for the Farmington (Mich.) Public Schools, said, "We expect NHTSA to give this matter the full scientific attention it deserves, and reiterate our call for them to reevaluate school bus passenger seating and crash protection with the goal of establishing a safety system that will definitively enhance the current passenger crash protection for all children that ride a school bus. We would be pleased to assist in any way that would help them arrive at such a decision."

NAPT Executive Director Michael Martin added, "NHTSA must get this decision right. We expect them to do a full range of dynamic testing to justify any changes they recommend and, equally important, ensure there are no unanticipated consequences that put children at increased risk."

In February of 2007, NAPT formally petitioned NHTSA to provide a definitive, science-based answer about whether safety belts would actually improve passenger protection in school bus crashes. NAPT also implored the agency to consider and recommend any other approaches that might improve the safety of school bus occupants. NHTSA subsequently held a meeting to get public input and in November 2007 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that did not propose a requirement for safety belts in large school buses but said they were a "best practice." NAPT questioned this "best practice" recommendation.

"It is NHTSA's statutory responsibility to conduct crash tests, data analysis and cost-benefit calculations when creating Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or advising states to take voluntary actions, and to respond with answers derived from data and science when crashes occur and questions arise," said Martin. "We just want them to do their job."

"The entire education community is looking forward to definitive recommendations in 2009 from NHTSA, but only after comprehensive testing and analysis is completed," said NAPT Board member John W. Hazelette, Director of Transportation for the Norfolk (Va.) Public Schools. "According to the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science, school buses are 44 times safer than the typical family car. Therefore it is incumbent upon NHTSA to make an active effort to educate the American public about the importance of safe school bus transportation as a logical way to reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes ... our children deserve no less."

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