More than 50,000 school buses used to transport children every day have been recalled, after federal safety regulators found that the seat backs fail to meet mandatory safety standards, and could pose an injury hazard for children and other occupants in the event of a crash.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a Thomas Built school bus recall this week, indicating the vehicles were equipped with styrene blocks that may not give enough impact absorption around the back of the seat frame.
Unlike most motor vehicles, school buses are not equipped with seatbelts to keep its passengers safe. Rather, school buses use a unique technology called compartmentalization, which requires the seat backs to be made with an energy-absorbing steel inner structure with high padded backs to secure passengers in place during a crash.
According to the defect report, the seat backs on certain Thomas Built school buses were manufactured with styrene blocks that may not provide sufficient absorption in certain areas around the steel frame of the seats.
NHTSA officials have indicated the failure to equip the vehicles with the necessary padding is a violation of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 222, “School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection.”
The school bus recall impacts approximately 53,528 model year 2014 through 2020 Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner EFX, Minotour, Saf-T-Liner C2, and Saf-T-Liner HDX school buses equipped with SynTec S3B or S3C seats.
The vehicles were manufactured by Daimler Trucks North America LLC (DTNA) of Portland, Oregon, from August 18, 2014 through August 15, 2019. They were distributed for sale to licensed dealers nationwide.
DTNA indicates that it will begin notifying customers about the recall and provide instructions on how to schedule a free repair inspection at their local dealer, where dealers will be instructed to install additional impact material between the re-bond back and the vinyl back cover to increase the amount of absorption required by federal law.
The recall is anticipated to begin on December 2, 2019. Customers with additional questions or concerns regarding the recall are encouraged to contact DTNA customer service at 1-800-547-0712 and reference the recall campaign number FL-832.
Despite seat belts being required in all passenger vehicles since 1968, multi-passenger buses were only required to start installing seat belts on commercial buses manufactured after 2016. School buses are still not required to install seat belts.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains that seat belts are not an essential safety feature of buses, due to compartmentalization. This design requires the interior of buses to meet a standard for the seats to be closely-spaced and be able to absorb energy from a crash. However, critics claim those design features provide less protection for passengers in roll over events and passenger collisions on the interior.