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Highway Accident Report - School Bus and Truck Collision, Chesterfield, NJ, February 16, 2012 - Chairman's Opening Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Highway Accident Report - School Bus and Truck Collision, Chesterfield, NJ, February 16, 2012 - Chairman's Opening Remarks

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act to consider the February 16, 2012, collision of a school bus and truck near Chesterfield, New Jersey. The bus was carrying 25 elementary school students to Chesterfield Elementary School. The crash killed one student and seriously injured five others. Today we will also discuss a second school bus crash, which occurred in Port St. Lucie, Florida, less than a month after the Chesterfield crash. A school bus turned left in front of a large truck. The serious collision resulted in the death of one student and injured the driver and 19 students.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the two children who died in these accidents. The loss of a child is especially heartbreaking, a young life just begun with so much promise unfulfilled. We also offer our sincere wishes for a full recovery for everyone who was injured in these crashes.

We dedicate this meeting, and all of our work on school bus safety, to protecting the lives and the health of our nation's school children. Every day across the country, millions of parents and guardians entrust their children to school bus drivers for transportation to school and school-related activities. They are right to do this: school buses are by far the safest way to transport children to school. School buses are designed for safety and they perform well in collisions with passenger vehicles. It's in collisions with heavier trucks and trains where few vehicles perform well.

The 26 million students, including my three sons, who ride school buses every day, are safer on our nation's school buses than when they are driven by their parents or other adults ... and are far safer than when driven by a teenager.

These two school bus crashes were similar in several respects. Both were side impact crashes. Both were in states that require seat belts on school buses. And, in both crashes, properly worn passenger laps belts were beneficial.

Yet, there is always more to learn and more that can be done to protect our schoolchildren, which is why we investigated the Chesterfield, New Jersey and Port St. Lucie, Florida crashes, and convened today's Board meeting.

We will hear from staff about human factors, vehicle factors and highway factors. For human factors, we will learn about the driver and about the commercial driver medical examination process. We will hear about the truck, its operation, maintenance and manufacture. And, we will hear about the highway, especially the intersection where the crash occurred.

But, it's in the area of school bus occupant protection where we have the opportunity to dramatically expand our knowledge base. Because the Port St. Lucie bus was equipped with cameras recording from four different locations, our staff was able to conduct a close examination of the occupant kinematics or the motion of vehicle occupants during a collision.

Our biomechanical experts quickly realized that to fully benefit from this valuable research tool it was important to reach out and include additional technical expertise. Everyone who was asked eagerly participated on the project. I want to thank Dr. Richard Kent of the University of Virginia's Center for Applied Biomechanics, Dr. Kristy Arbogast of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Dr. Mark R. Zonfrillo of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Injury Research and Prevention for their contributions working with our team to learn as much as possible from this invaluable video.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.