onica Coburn is a disciple of lap-shoulder seat belts on school buses, traveling the country as student transportation account manager for seat belt manufacturer IMMI to advise school districts on adding buses with such belts to their fleets. Coburn’s “passion,” as she describes it, has been fundamen- tal to her whole 16-year career in transportation. She was the transportation director for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Indiana when it became the first public district in the state to adopt the three-point belts. Coburn said the district acted after an aide was injured when a bus slid off the road, and a lap-shoulder belt could have prevented the injury. An Indiana private school had also already implemented the occupant restraints on its school buses to rave reviews. Coburn then oversaw the addition of 100 buses with IMMI SafeGuard lap-shoulder belts to the Indianapolis Public Schools fleet. “Tere are just so many safety factors that increase with lap-shoulder belts,” Coburn said. “Kids sitting the way they are supposed to be, kids behaving the way they are supposed to be, drivers focused where they are supposed to be because they’re not having to watch the students.” She noted that, last year, 10 Indiana districts purchased lap-shoulder-belt-equipped buses, even though there is no state law requiring them. As of July, seven states will have some type of law mandat- ing seat belts on school buses: California and Texas require lap-shoulder belts while Nevada’s statute goes into effect next year. Florida, New Jersey and New York require two-point lap belts, and Louisiana also has a law but the state legislature has never appropriated the necessary money to enforce it. Other states and the federal government continue debating whether seat belts should be required, and 29 states have recently introduced such legislation. NHTSA does require lap-shoulder belts for buses

weighing less than 10,000 pounds because these vehicles respond much like passenger vehicles in a crash. Tese are all essentially white buses and not yellow but they are often used to transport Head Start and early childhood students in age- and weight-appropriate child safety restraint systems. In 2015, Mark Rosekind, then head of the National

Highway Traffic Safety Administration, stated: “NHTSA’s policy is that every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.” NHTSA has not done much on the topic for the last couple of years, but it did recently issue an RFP to gather documented studies of how school bus lap-shoulder belts can improve student behavior.

DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE AISLE Lap-shoulder belt supporters including transportation direc- tors who have adopted the belts voluntarily describe them as a triple-win situation as they improve safety, student behavior

and driver focus. But there remains considerable opposition to requiring lap-shoulder (or any) seat belts on standard buses. Richard “Al” Murry said he doesn’t see his Louisiana RII school district located about 100 miles northwest of St. Louis ever adopting lap-shoulder belts unless a Missouri law requires it. He added that he thinks it would be “nearly impossible” for drivers to make sure students stay buckled, and that he be- lieves the belts pose risks in the case of fire, flooding or certain accidents, if students find it harder to get out. “In my opinion, I’ve been in this 25 years, seat belts do

not have a place in a standard school bus,” Murry said. Tyler Independent School District Transportation Director

John Bagert said he would not have purchased buses with lap-shoulder belts if Texas didn’t require them. “We have not witnessed those types of accidents where seat belts would have been beneficial,” he said. “I have had five emergency evacuations due to fire, smoke or fumes in the passenger compartment. I believe in those situations, seat belts would have hampered a quick evacuation, especially with 60-plus elementary students on board.” Te National Transportation Safety Board disagrees. It found after conducting several school bus crash investiga- tions that student passengers are safer in lap-shoulder belts that keep them contained in the seating compartment during a side-impact collision or rollover. A simulated T-bone crash between a semi and a school bus performed at IMMI last summer provided further proof of the devastating injuries that unbelted students could sustain. Tere have also been documented school bus fires, like one

in March in Yorkshire, New York, where students were wearing lap-shoulder seat belts and all evacuated safely. While Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 209 governing seat belt compo- nents requires the force needed to release the buckle and unlatch the belt be equivalent to that of a 50th percentile adult male, Charles Vits, IMMI’s market development manager for Safe- Guard, pointed out that students not belted in a crash are likely to be injured or a least dazed, which would hinder evacaution.

FUNDING CHALLENGES Transportation directors say that school districts should

be provided funding for lap-shoulder belts only if they are mandated—but that is often not the case. Tom Carroll is transportation director for San Juan Unified School District in California, where state law has long mandated new buses have lap-shoulder belts. He said the law places a serious financial burden on schools, and means that districts delay buying new buses, forcing them to pay more to maintain older buses. As the former transportation director of Shasta Union High School District in northern California, Carroll said he had to lay off employees because of the cost of buying buses with seat belts. “A lot of states are thinking about it, I see handwriting on the

46 School Transportation News • MAY 2018

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68