Responding, in part, to school bus accidents in Florida and New Jersey, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) met recently to consider whether or not stricter safety requirements for school buses should be required across the country.
Florida and New Jersey are two of only six states which require students to wear safety belts on school buses. As such, buses in those states are equipped with lap belts.
Despite this, in February 2012, an eleven-year-old girl was killed and five other students when a dump truck crashed into the left rear side of a bus in New Jersey, and a month later in Florida, a semi tractor-trailer also hit a bus on a rear side with a similar result: one student dead and four seriously injured. Both accidents occurred at intersections.
In presenting their report to the NTSB, accident investigators said that the girl who was killed in the New Jersey crash probably wasn’t wearing her seat belt. They also allowed that because some students were wearing their belts the number of serious injuries was greatly reduced.
The report also found, however, that even those students who were wearing seat belts were probably greatly jarred in both accidents, because the safety belts on buses are lap belts, and do not include shoulder straps. As such, they would have found their upper bodies coming into hard contact with unpadded parts of the buses, like the backs of seats in front of them.
Over a decade ago, the NTSB recommended that padding of hard edges be required on all school buses. It is likely, in the wake of the report from these two accidents from last year, that more recommendations will be forthcoming.