Friday, June 4, 2010

Why are there no seat belts on school buses?


Thirty-five years ago in California, UCLA engineers performed a series of classic school bus crash studies, which determined that the major cause for injury in school bus accidents was the inadequacy of school bus seats. They prposed “compartmentalization” of the child occupants between high-back, well-padded and well-anchored seats capable of absorbing crash forces with large aisle side panels to contain riders. A lap belt was recommended to provide substantial additional protection.

Ten years later, in response to a Congressional mandate, NHTSA promulgated Federal Motor Vehicle Standard 222 that provided for some of the proposed features. The 222 seat was better anchored, padded and designed for energy absorbing and was 4 inches higher than seats then in use.

When Standard 222 was implemented, children who were to ride on large school buses manufactured after that date, were promised, and subsequently have relied on, being safely compartmentalized between high-back, well-padded and anchored seats for crash protection. Since that time, agencies, departments and representatives of Federal, State and Local governments, school district officials, school bus manufacturers, pupil transportation directors, and the operators of school buses have confidently and persistently assured parents and children that compartmentalization provided the optimal school bus safety system by containing the child passengers within their seating compartment during accidents. Officials insisted that because of compartmentalization, crash forces would be effectively attenuated by the padded surroundings and injuries and fatalities would be mitigated. Parents and their children have accepted and placed their trust in this advice advanced by these transportation officials. (See attached 23 YEARS OF INSTITUTIONAL DISINFORMATION)

Unfortunately, the standard fell far short of the UCLA findings. NHTSA failed to include the all-important compartmentalizing side panel, and the lap belt; seat back height increase was eight inches lower than the engineers had recommended. As a result “compartmentalization” was significantly compromised, working fairly well for front-end crashes but providing no passenger protection in side impacts and bus rollovers.

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