NHTSA Day-Long Meeting Explores Issue of Seat Belts on School Buses

This article originated in the June/July 2015 issue of Safe Ride News.

3 Kids on Bus Seat

On July 23, NHTSA convened an eight-hour meeting to discuss the “current state of knowledge” regarding three-point belt systems (aka lap-shoulder belts) on school buses. The meeting’s purpose was to identify operational and policy challenges and solutions regarding the use of lap-shoulder belts on buses and to explore innovative funding approaches that could “serve as a catalyst for change.”

Much has happened in the more than 10 years since school bus seating systems featuring lap-shoulder belts were first introduced. During that time, manufacturers have further innovated to make their seating more flexible (as all seating makers now offer systems that can be easily converted for use with or without seat belts or built-in harnesses) and to eliminate concerns regarding capacity limitations (as all now offer systems that can accommodate up to three children on one bench seat).

The full-day meeting, attended by NHTSA director Mark Rosekind, signals the agency’s interest in taking a fresh look at this subject, and it was an opportunity to update policymakers and others on factual information regarding the value of lap-shoulder belts on today’s school buses. This often required debunking persistent arguments against lap-shoulder belt use that have either become moot due to equipment improvements or have been shown to be unfounded through actual experience. For instance, through school transportation directors’ testimony, it was noted that there was a significant overall improvement in rider behavior (documented by a sharp decline in disciplinary reports) on buses with lap-shoulder belts, which in turn lessened driver distraction. This finding rebuts a common fear that belts could increase behavior issues (for instance, if used as weapons). Also reported was evidence that the use of seat belts promoted more orderly and effective emergency evacuation, rather than contributing to evacuation difficulties, as some had posited.

Video recordings of the day’s meeting (below), as well as PowerPoint® presentations and presenter biographies, can be found on the NHTSA website.

Video of morning session:

Video of afternoon session: