Mandate Three Point Belt Requirement for All Seating Positions on All School Buses sign now

Honorable David Strickland, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C. 20590

PETITION

The National Coalition for Schoolbus Safety (NCSS), Center for Auto Safety (CAS), and [other petitioners] petition the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pursuant to 49 C.F.R. 552 to initiate rulemaking for the purpose of amending Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 222 (FMVSS 222) to protect children from death and injury in schoolbus crashes.

This petition seeks action by NHTSA to promptly mandate the three point belt requirement for all seating positions on all school buses. The urgency of this petition is underscored by recent school bus crashes in which restrained children were protected from severe injury and, in contrast, unrestrained children suffered fatal or severe injuries. The action requested by this petition is consistent with that recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.


Connecticut Crash
At about 8:00 AM on Saturday, January 9, 2010, on Interstate Route 84 in Hartford, Connecticut, a school bus carrying 16 gifted math students and two adults to a science competition collided with a station wagon, the bus driver lost control, crashed through a roadside guardrail, plummeted down a 20-foot drop-off and ended in the ravine below. One child was killed and fifteen were injured. Several suffered broken bones and bruises as they fell on top of one another as the bus came to a crashing halt.

The bus was not equipped with seat belts for any of the passengers.

According to press accounts, one student reported, All of a sudden, we were just airborne. We were all airborne. A parent recounted what his daughter told him, "One of her friends flew over two seats and got a gash from that. There were a number of people with broken ankles and broken wrists, and an adult with broken ribs and maybe a broken wrist."

It did not take long for state Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Connecticut legislature's transportation committee, to announce on the very next day that he will immediately submit legislation that calls for seat belts on school buses.
According to the Hartford Courant this would not be the first time that a lawmaker has called for seat belts on school buses. Twenty-three bills that would have required the devices have been introduced by lawmakers over the past 20 years, but they never made it out of committee.
National leadership is essential, and is needed now.
NHTSAs Failure to Act
In spite of on continuing real world demonstrations of the need for seat belts on school buses, the urgings of other responsible Federal authorities, national and local safety and medical organizations and concerned individuals, NHTSA has persistently refused to require seatbelts on all newly manufactured large yellow school buses. NHTSAs inaction continues to imperil all the children who are transported back and forth to school every school day and to school related activities such as occurred in the Hartford crash.
In April of 1977, when the FMVSS 222 was adopted under a mandate from Congress in the Motor Vehicle and Schoolbus Safety Amendments of 1974, Pub. Law No. 93-492, children who were to ride on large school buses manufactured after that date, were promised by NHTSA, 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 their children that compartmentalization provided the optimal school bus safety system by containing child passengers within their seating compartment during accidents. They 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.

The Hartford crash represents a tragic rejection of the concept of compartmentalization as adequate protection for our school children,
NTSB Recommendations Ignored
The faith in compartmentalization had already been shattered a decade ago when on September 21, 1999 when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported a special investigation of bus crashworthiness and concluded that, "Current compartmentalization is incomplete in that it does not protect school bus passengers during lateral impacts with vehicles of large mass and in rollovers, because in such accidents, passengers do not always remain completely within the seating compartment." The Board went on to point out that these passengers who were propelled from the compartment during collisions were more likely to be injured.
For the protection of school bus occupants, the NTSB then went on to recommend that NHTSA act as follows:
In 2 years, develop performance standards for school bus occupant protection systems that account for frontal impact collisions, side impact collisions, rear impact collisions, and rollovers. (H-99-45)
Once pertinent standards have been developed for school bus occupant protection systems, require newly manufactured school buses to have an occupant crash protection system that meets the newly developed performance standards and retains passengers, including those in child safety restraint systems, within the seating compartment throughout the accident sequence for all accident scenarios. (H-99-46)

NHTSA Fails to Implement NTSB Recommendations

With the lives of the over 25 million children who ride the school bus every school day imperiled, NHTSA was painfully slow in acting on the NTSBs recommendations. It was not until fully nine years later, on October 28, 2008 that NHTSA finally promulgated its rule entitled Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Seating Systems, Occupant Crash Protection, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection

Unfortunately, and not unexpectedly the long awaited final NHTSA rule falls far short of addressing the NTSBs recommendations.

The final rule requires installation of lap/shoulder belts only on newly manufactured small school buses merely suggests their voluntary placement on new large buses and does little to improve rider safety.

The NHTSA proposal requires all new small school buses of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) or less gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) be required to have installed lap/shoulder belts. For the familiar, large, yellow school buses with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) greater than 4,536 kilograms (kg) (10,000 pounds), the rule provides only guidance to State and local jurisdictions on the subject of placement of seat belts. There is no requirement that lap/shoulder belts to be installed. NHTSA merely encourages providers to consider lap/shoulder belts on large school buses.

History has demonstrated that when safety upgrading is suggested for school buses, voluntary implementations by school authorities are extremely rare unless the vehicular construction improvement is required by law or regulatory standard at time of manufacture. When the original bus standards went into effect in 1977, NHTSA made the same distinction regarding lap belts; installation at time of manufacture on the small buses, voluntary and at local discretion for the larger buses. Less than a tenth of one percent of school districts got the message and ordered buses with belts.

It took 15 years for the first state to require lap belts on newly manufactured buses and now, over 30 years later just four states mandate belts on new buses.


School Buses under 10,000 pounds

Because since 1977 small buses have been required by NHTSA to be manufactured with a lap belts restraint system that functions to keep the child passengers in the compartment during lateral and rollover crashes in those small buses, the NTSBs 1999 concerns for child lateral and roll over restraint has actually been in effect only in the in the small buses for the past 30 years. As a result, the new requirement adds almost nothing to bus safety in the real world.

School Buses over 10,000 pounds

However, after NHTSA acknowledges, in terms of the optimum passenger crash protection that can be afforded an individual passenger on a large school bus, a lap/shoulder belt system, together with compartmentalization, would afford that optimum protection, the proposal fails to require these lap/shoulder belts on all but the smallest school buses.

The exclusion of the larger buses effectively denies the overwhelming majority of children protection during lateral and rollover crashes and disregards the NTSBs concern.

According to NHTSA, U.S. school bus sales for the sales years 2001-2005 averaged about 40,000 school buses produced per year. Of the 40,000 school buses manufactured each year, 2,500 of them were 10,000 pounds GVWR or under. The other 37,500 school buses were over 10,000 pounds GVWR .

Based on this NHTSA determination, calculating for number of seating positions to be lap/shoulder belted, based on 16 seats per small and 66 seats for large buses finds that if NHTSAs proposal is enacted only 1.6\% of seats installed for the student rider ship would have belts available while 98.5\% would ride unprotected in buses produced.

The unwarranted exemption of large buses, coupled with the demonstrated, thirty year history of failure to voluntarily install belts on large buses by Districts and states argues strongly for NHTSA to require all newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with lap/shoulder belts.

Children transported on large buses should not be denied the protection of lap/shoulder belts.

2009 NTSB Report
This embarrassingly minimal effort by NHTSA and tragic omission for Americas children has just been recognized by the NTSB. In their just released Highway Accident report of a school bus accident near Milton, FL that took place on May 28, 2008 the Board expressed its dissatisfaction with NHTSAs actions. Because Florida Law requires seat belt installation and belts were being used by all riders in this collision/multiple roll over crash, passengers satisfactorily rode through the accident. The Board pointed out that in stark contrast during an extremely similar roll over accident in Flagstaff, AZ there were multiple ejections and lifetime crippling injuries.

The Flagstaff school bus was not equipped with any form of passenger restraints; the drivers position was equipped with a lap belt. During the overturn sequence, five passengers were ejected from the bus. Of these ejected occupants, one suffered a severe head injury requiring long-term care and another sustained a cervical spine injury resulting in quadriplegia. In total, the driver and four passengers sustained serious injuries. The remaining passengers sustained minor or no injuries.
In the Milton accident, only one passenger (who may have slipped out of a loosely worn belt) and the driver sustained serious injuries, and these injuries are unlikely to require long-term care. No passengers were ejected from the bus during the Milton overturn sequence.
As a result, the Board found that because NHTSA did not mandate an occupant protection system that would maintain all school bus occupants in their seating area in real-world accidents such as rollovers. The NTSB classified NHTSAs response to Safety Recommendation as unacceptable.
Petitioners heartily agree. The Laws of Physics are not repealed because one bus is longer than another. In their studies of accident profiles, fatalities and severe injuries on school buses that exceed 10,000 lb GVW the Safety Board has convincingly determined that three point belts are needed to protect children on all newly manufactured school buses.
Conclusion
Petitioners urge that the above referenced rule regarding FMVS Standard 222 be promptly amended to mandate the three point belt requirement for all seating positions on all school buses.

Respectfully submitted

Alan Ross
NCSS

Clarence Ditlow
CAS

OTHERS

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Loraine RichardsonBy:
International PolicyIn:
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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

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