Tragic School Bus Accident Highlights Need for Seatbelts, Other Safety Features: NTSB

NTSB has recommended states pass mandatory school bus seatbelt laws since 2010, and indicate that lane departure technology may have prevented a fatal accident in Tennessee

Federal transportation officials are pointing to a fatal accident last month in Tennessee as a tragic example of why states need to do more to strengthen school bus seatbelt laws, and require collision avoidance technology on large commercial vehicles, indicating that the safety improvements may have saved the life of a young child and school bus driver killed in the crash.

On October 27, a Tennessee school bus was struck by a service truck that reportedly drifted into oncoming traffic, causing the death of a seven year-old child and the driver of the bus.

A report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) determined the freightliner truck accidentally drifted lanes, while the driver was looking in his rearview mirror. The driver reportedly overcompensated when attempting to correct the truck’s course. This caused the truck to enter oncoming traffic, striking the school bus head-on at approximately 52 miles per hour.

In addition to the two fatalities, the NTSB report indicates four of the school bus passengers suffered serious injuries, while another 10 were treated for minor injuries.

An investigation by the NTSB reviewed inward- and outward-facing video cameras and determined several of the bus passengers were not seated properly at the time of the crash. Officials determined additional safety measures could have prevented the crash, or at least greatly reduced the severity of injuries sustained by passengers.

NTSB Safety Recommendations

The incident has prompted NTSB officials to reissue a decade old recommendation to states, calling on local regulatory officials to mandate lap and shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions in school buses. Following a review of the inward-footage of the bus, officials stated the use of lap belts would have prevented the ejection of children from their seats, reducing the impact of their injuries.

Officials further stated lap belts could have also prevented children from engaging in riskier behavior on the bus, such as being out of their seat or improperly seated.

“Lap/shoulder belts would have mitigated the forward inertial movement of the unbelted passengers on the school bus, keeping them within the protecting seating compartment and reducing their risk of injury”, the NTSB press release stated.

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NTSB officials are also calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require new vehicles with gross weight ratings greater than 10,000 pounds to be equipped with lane departure prevention systems, which have become widely available in most new light-weight cars and trucks.

Officials indicate that if the service truck was equipped with a version of currently available lane departure avoidance technology, the driver would have been alerted to the lane departure, which could have allowed a more controlled and safe steering correction response.

School Bus Seat Belt Recommendations Not New

The NTSB stated in its press release covering the fatal school bus accident that the recommendation for states to require lap belts on school buses has existed since 2010. On average, school buses transport more than 25 million children to and from school annually, covering over 5.7 billion miles in commutes.

While school buses have been deemed as a traditionally safe method of transportation for children due to their “compartmentalization design, which is the closely spaced and high seats to absorb the energy of impact, experts have maintained the omission of bare minimum lap belts creates opportunity for injury in the event of a crash.

The NHTSA reports an average of six student passengers die in school bus crashes each year, compared to approximately 2,000 child deaths in automobile crashes annually.

Despite the NTSB’s recommendation, and data revealing multiple children are killed in school bus crashes annually, only eight states have adopted some form of school bus seatbelt requirements. Those states include, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas.


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