As reported by the Associated Press, we finally have a federal rule requiring harness-style seat belts on small school buses. Another part of the rule requires higher seat belts on larger buses, but does not require seat belts on those buses. Unfortunately, the rule does not take effect until 2011. Here are excerpts from the story:
Smaller school buses will have to be equipped with lap-and-shoulder seat belts for the first time under a government rule drafted following the deaths of four Alabama students on a school bus that nose-dived off an overpass.
Larger buses also will have higher seat backs under the new policy, which was announced Wednesday. The design change is supposed to keep older, heavier students from being thrown over the seats in a collision.
The seat belts will only have to be installed in new buses weighing 5 tons or less, and the requirement will not take effect until 2011. These smaller school buses are already required to have lap belts, but not the safer, harness-style belts. There is no seat belt requirement for larger buses.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said she stopped short of requiring seat belts for larger buses because that could limit the number of children that can squeeze into seats, forcing some children to travel in ways that aren’t as safe as school buses.
School districts sometimes expect as many as three younger children to share a bus seat, but if there are only two belts installed per seat then fewer children can ride the bus.
The new rule also includes a performance standard for seat belts on new, larger buses so that schools that want to voluntarily add belts will have guidance on what belts are best, Peters said. Providing a common standard may also lower the cost of adding belts, she said.
The rule increases the required height of seat backs on new buses to 24 inches, up from the current 20 inches. Higher seat backs will help keep taller, heavier children from being thrown over seats in a crash, Peters said. The rule will be phased in beginning in the fall of 2009 and become fully effective in 2011.
About 25 million children travel to school on 474,000 school buses, according to the Transportation Department. About six children a year are killed in school bus accidents, Peters said.