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While lack of funding remains an issue, school districts experienced with lap-shoulder belts point to their positive effect on student behavior while federal crash investigators cite their enhancement of school bus compartmentalization.


through numerous school bus crash investigations and crash tests that compartmentalization is most effective in rear and head-on collisions. Side impacts and rollovers throw students from the seating compartment and into the sides or the roof of the bus or into each other. Still, Brooks concluded that buses with lap-shoulder belts would be improved by lower seat-backs, despite the adverse effect that would have on compartmentalization, which the feds still say is better than no seat belts at all. “Tere is no way in heck a driver can tell if a student took a seat belt off,” Brooks said. “You could say have a buzzer system. But if you’re going 60 miles per hour and visibility isn’t great, what are you going to do? Stop the bus every two minutes be- cause a buzzer goes off? I’ve watched kids immediately take the shoulders out and put it behind them, so basically they take a three-point belt and get rid of the shoulder portion so it’s a lap belt only.” Overall, Brooks said he sees “advantages and disadvantages” to lap-shoulder belts, and he’s bought buses with them for the district’s rural routes with hilly, gravel roads where accidents seem more likely to occur. He also lamented that, while advertising photos of lap-shoulder belts seem to show kids in


shorts and T-shirts, students in North Dakota are typically bundled in big coats that make the belts trickier to use. Clark-Pleasant Community Schools in Indiana goes to great lengths to help students embrace lap-shoulder belts, Downin explained. Students watch a film called “Te Groovy School Bus,” which demonstrates belt use, and then take a special bus ride where administrators help them use the belts and practice evacuation. “Middle and high school [students] somewhat re- sist it because they’ve been riding a bus that doesn’t have” belts for so long, said Downin, who has integrated at least 11 lap- shoulder-belt-equipped buses into his fleet so far and has seven more on order. “Grade school kids do a tremendous job. We even have kindergarten kids help older kids get buckled in.” But even when the lessons start early, persuading kids to stay buckled up isn’t always easy, as Ohio Head Start Coordi- nator Patty Watts has seen. “It upsets me that I teach a child to follow safety rules while on the bus, then he or she goes to Kindergarten in the fall and one day I am following the bus and see that same child standing at the back door in the aisle waving at me,” said Watts. “He turns around, tells a few other kids that had previously attended my center—then there are several standing and waving at me!” 


50 School Transportation News • MAY 2018


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