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Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation H-13-035
Details
Synopsis: On Thursday, February 16, 2012, about 8:15 a.m. eastern standard time, near Chesterfield, New Jersey, a Garden State Transport Corporation 2012 IC Bus, LLC, school bus was transporting 25 kindergarten–sixth-grade students to Chesterfield Elementary School. The bus was traveling north on Burlington County Road (BCR) 660 through the intersection with BCR 528, while a Herman’s Trucking Inc. 2004 Mack roll-off1 truck with a fully loaded dump container was traveling east on BCR 528, approaching the intersection. The school bus driver had stopped at the flashing red traffic beacon and STOP sign. As the bus pulled away from just forward of the white stop line on BCR 660 and entered the intersection, it failed to yield to the truck and was struck behind the left rear axle. The bus rotated nearly 180 degrees and subsequently struck a traffic beacon support pole. One bus passenger was killed. Five bus passengers sustained serious injuries, 10 bus passengers and the bus driver received minor injuries, and nine bus passengers and the truck driver were uninjured. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines that the probable cause of the Chesterfield, New Jersey, crash was the school bus driver’s failure to observe the Mack roll-off truck, which was approaching the intersection within a hazardous proximity. Contributing to the school bus driver’s reduced vigilance were cognitive decrements due to fatigue as a result of acute sleep loss, chronic sleep debt, and poor sleep quality, in combination with, and exacerbated by, sedative side effects from his use of prescription medications. Contributing to the severity of the crash was the truck driver’s operation of his vehicle in excess of the posted speed limit, in addition to his failure to ensure that the weight of the vehicle was within allowable operating restrictions. Further contributing to the severity of the crash were the defective brakes on the truck and its overweight condition due to poor vehicle oversight by Herman’s Trucking, along with improper installation of the lift axle brake system by the final stage manufacturer—all of which degraded the truck’s braking performance. Contributing to the severity of passenger injuries were the nonuse or misuse of school bus passenger lap belts; the lack of passenger protection from interior sidewalls, sidewall components, and seat frames; and the high lateral and rotational forces in the back portion of the bus.
Recommendation: TO THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE DIRECTORS OF PUPIL TRANSPORTATION SERVICES, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR PUPIL TRANSPORTATION, NATIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION, SCHOOL BUS MANUFACTURERS TECHNICAL COUNCIL, AND NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL, SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION SECTION: Develop guidelines and include them in the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures to assist schools in training bus drivers, students, and parents on the importance and proper use of school bus seat belts, including manual lap belts, adjustable lap and shoulder belts, and flexible seating systems.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Open - Acceptable Response
Mode: Highway
Location: Chesterfield, NJ, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: HWY12MH007
Accident Reports: School Bus and Truck Collision at Intersection
Report #: HAR-13-01
Accident Date: 2/16/2012
Issue Date: 9/9/2013
Date Closed:
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: National Association for Pupil Transportation (Open - Acceptable Response)
National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (Open - Acceptable Response)
National Safety Council (Open - Acceptable Response)
National School Transportation Association (Open - Acceptable Response)
School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council (Closed - Reconsidered)
Keyword(s):

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
To: National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services
Date: 2/10/2014
Response: We are encouraged by your plans to develop school bus seat belt use guidelines that you will (1) recommend for inclusion in the 2015 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures, and (2) provide to your members. We also support your plan to use information from your seat belt system manufacturer and supplier partners in developing materials to advise states and school districts on the high level of protection provided by lap and shoulder belts. Pending completion of these actions, Safety Recommendations H-13-35 and -36 are classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services
To: NTSB
Date: 12/6/2013
Response: -From Bob Riley, Executive Director: The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) appreciates the opportunity to respond to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Safety Recommendations H-13-35 and H-13-36 issued to NASDPTS, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA). The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) was founded in 1968, and represents a cross section of individuals and organizations involved in the safe transportation of school children. As the Association’s name indicates, members include those individuals with the primary responsibility for school transportation in each state. In addition, school bus manufacturers and other industry suppliers, school transportation contractors, and state associations whose members include school transportation officials, drivers, trainers and technicians are also members of affiliated councils within the association. This diversity in membership combined with the day-to-day involvement of the state directors in policy matters, creates a unique perspective on pupil transportation issues. These recommendations address the development of (1) guidelines to assist schools in training bus drivers, students and parents on the importance and proper use of school bus restraint systems and including them in the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures and (2) provide NASDPTS members with educational materials on lap and shoulder belts providing the highest level of protection for school bus passengers. NASDPTS is pleased to respond to those Safety Recommendations. It should be pointed out that NASDPTS, at its Annual Conference (October 2013) issued a Position Statement regarding lap/shoulder belts, “NASDPTS fully supports the installation and use of lap/shoulder belts in school buses”. NASDPTS is not asking that lap/shoulder belts be required but should be a local decision based on local need. NASDPTS believes that NTSB Safety Recommendations H- 13-35 and H-13 36 are consistent with and support the NASDPTS Position Statement. NASDPTS will appoint a committee to include a cross section of state directors and NASDPTS Executive Director to develop guidelines to assist schools in training school bus drivers, students and parents and on the importance and proper use of school bus seat belts, including manual lap belts, adjustable lap and shoulder belts, and flexible seating systems. NASDPTS will submit those guidelines to the 2015 National Congress on Student Transportation (NCST) and recommend their inclusion in the 2015 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures.

From: NTSB
To: National Association for Pupil Transportation
Date: 10/30/2014
Response: We appreciate your plan to make your members aware of the circumstances of this accident and note that you plan to work with NSTA and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services to develop the recommended guidelines. We understand that the guidelines will be submitted for inclusion in the 2015 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures. Pending completion of these actions, Safety Recommendation H 13-35 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: National Association for Pupil Transportation
To: NTSB
Date: 8/6/2014
Response: -From Michael J. Martin, Executive Director, National Association for Pupil Transportation and Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director, National School Transportation Association: NAPT and NSTA will use their communications channels to share the NTSB recommendation with our members. Safety education is an ongoing priory of both organizations. NAPT and NSTA also agreed to work collaboratively with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) to review the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures so states with belt use requirements have the latest information regarding the installation and use of these devices. If asked, we will also consult with NAPT and NSTA members in the six states that have belt requirements as they attempt to address your recommendation.

From: National Association for Pupil Transportation
To: NTSB
Date: 2/4/2014
Response: -From Michael J. Martin, Executive Director, National Association of Pupil Transportation and Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director, National School Transportation Association: This Letter is in response to your December 19, 2013 letter to the National Association of Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) requesting a meeting to discuss our December 9, 2013 joint response on safety recommendations H-­-13-­-35 and H-­-13-­-36 following the Chesterfield, New Jersey and Port St. Lucie, Florida 2012 school bus accident investigations. The senior leadership of NAPT and NSTA will be in Washington, D.C. for NSTA’s spring meeting and would like to propose a joint NAPT-­-NSTA meeting with the NTSB at that time. Given our schedule, we would like to propose 10:00am or 11:00am on Thursday, April 3, 2014. If that time is unacceptable, please suggest other times that could be available. We look forward to this discussion with you and your staff.

From: NTSB
To: National Association for Pupil Transportation
Date: 12/19/2013
Response: You indicated concerns regarding the differing positions of the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the complex history of school bus occupant protection. In lieu of an official written response, we would like to meet with representatives of NAPT to discuss your concerns and these recommendations in person; if you prefer, this could be a joint meeting with representatives of NSTA, as well. We will delay our formal review of NAPT’s response and classification of the recommendations until after we have an opportunity to meet.

From: National Association for Pupil Transportation
To: NTSB
Date: 12/9/2013
Response: Michael J. Martin, Executive Director, National Association of Pupil Transportation and Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director National School Transportation Association: The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) are pleased to jointly respond to the recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations to our organizations for further improving the safety of school bus occupants. The recommendations, which were developed as a result of NTSB’s investigations of school bus crashes in Chesterfield, NJ and Port St. Lucie, FL, call on NAPT, NSTA and others to “Develop guidelines and include them in the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures to assist schools in training bus drivers, students and parents on the importance and proper use of school bus seat belts, including manual lap belts, adjustable lap and shoulder belts, and flexible seating systems” (H-13-35), and “Provide your members with educational materials on lap and shoulder belts providing the highest level of protection for school bus passengers, and advise states or school districts to consider this added safety benefit when purchasing seat belt equipped-school buses.” (H-13-36) We have tremendous respect for NTSB and consider your recommendations the starting point for a further collaboration to bring an important topic with a long and difficult history to a conclusion that our industry and the communities we serve can understand and embrace. Currently, there is no federal safety requirement for safety belts in large school buses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency with regulatory authority on the matter of occupant protection in motor vehicles, has for many decades worked to increase safety belt use in passenger cars and more recently in other vehicles. However, it has repeatedly come to the conclusion that safety belt mandates for large school buses are inadvisable and could actually be counterproductive to improving safety. Since the early 1980s we have transitioned from a nation where belt use was relatively small to majority usage, and there are now laws requiring it in all but one state. This leads to the commonly held opinion that “if my car has seat belts so should my child’s school bus”, which is one of the reasons calls for seat belts in school buses make headlines after every serious crash. While this is understandable, as we know, there are many reasons why most large school buses- with a safety record that’s the best in the transportation industry and a federally-conceived engineering design that is markedly different structurally and in usage than passenger cars - do not have safety belts. Now that NHTSA recently announced motor coaches will be required to have lap/shoulder belts beginning in 2016, already the general public and news media are asking, “Why motor coaches but not school buses?” NAPT and NSTA are prepared to explain to parents and the news media that school buses, motor coaches and the family car are very different vehicles from a crashworthiness perspective and, therefore, do not necessarily utilize the same safety strategies. We continue to believe that our safety record demonstrates that the “automatic” approach to protecting children in school buses, that was mandated for school buses by federal safety officials before seat belt use became popular, remains extremely effective. Six states - California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas - currently require belts to be installed in large school buses. These states were given a separate recommendation from the Board regarding developing informational materials on belt use, as well as training procedures for proper usage. As the largest industry trade association representing all states operating school buses (NAPT), and the association representing private school bus contractors (NSTA), our response to your recommendations seeks to address outstanding concerns in the states where belts are required on school buses, as well as those where they are not. Our intent is to provide the best possible information and clarity so everyone can make informed decisions about the efficacy of belts in the school bus operational environment, and how to best allocate resources among safety priorities. In response to Recommendation H-13-35, NAPT and NSTA will use their communications channels to share the NTSB’s recommendation with our members. Safety education is an ongoing priority of both organizations. NAPT and NSTA, also agree to work collaboratively with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) to review the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures so states with belt use requirements have the latest information regarding the installation and use of these devices. If asked, we will also consult with NAPT and NSTA members in the six states that have belt requirements as they attempt to address your recommendation. In response to Recommendation H-13-36, we cannot at this time support this recommendation. We acknowledge and appreciate the work the Board did in the Chesterfield, NJ and Port St. Lucie crash investigations. These investigations add additional information to the body of knowledge about school bus crash kinematics and safety belts. Frankly, however, NTSB’s conclusions and recommendations added to our conundrum as trade associations that must understand and represent many differing state and local views on this topic. A bit of history may be instructive: As a result of its 1999 special investigations report, Bus Crashworthiness Issues, NTSB recommended in November of that year that NHTSA “In two years, develop performance standards for school bus occupant protection systems that account for frontal impact collisions, side impact collisions, rear impact collisions, and rollovers.” (H-99-45). That recommendation was subsequently closed because of “Acceptable Alternate Action.” Apparently the alternate action was that NHTSA replied it was working on a 2-year research program that would scientifically determine the real-world effectiveness of current Federal requirements for school bus occupant crash protection and would evaluate alternative occupant crash protection systems in controlled laboratory tests. NTSB also recommended, “Once pertinent standards have been developed for school bus occupant protection systems, require newly manufactured school buses to have an occupant crash protection system that meets the newly developed performance standards and retains passengers, including those in child safety restraint systems, within the seat compartment throughout the accident sequence for all accident scenarios.” (H-99-46). This recommendation was closed with the notation, “Unacceptable Action.” We presume this meant NHTSA chose not to follow your recommendations on this very serious safety matter. In 2002, NHTSA issued a report to Congress that, for all intents and purposes, underscored the efficacy of compartmentalization as a good “passive” solution to protecting children riding in the unique operational circumstances of a school bus, and reinforced its preference for this system as the core of school bus passenger safety. In February 2007, NAPT petitioned NHTSA for rulemaking to establish “…a safety system that will definitively enhance the current passenger crash protection for all children that ride a school bus.” NAPT also asked NHTSA to help us educate the public about the importance of safe school bus transportation. In NAPT’s response to the subsequent rulemaking, NAPT called on NHTSA to conduct dynamic crash tests of school buses - as they do routinely and repeatedly with other passenger vehicles – to evaluate kinematics in all of the various crash modes, including and especially side, oblique and rollover crashes. To our knowledge, no such testing has been conducted. Problematic for us in responding to the Board’s recommendation H-13-36 is that in its March 2010 Final Rule on school bus occupant protection and again in 2011, NHTSA reached conclusions that in our view contradict the Board’s current recommendations In 2011, for example, NHTSA determined that requiring safety belts in school buses would not result in improved safety, and said that a federal seat belt mandate might actually increase fatalities by forcing more children into less safe modes of getting to and from school. In addition, the following statements also illustrate a dichotomy of perspective between NHTSA and NTSB: NTSB: “Provide your members with educational materials on lap and shoulder belts providing the highest level of protection for school bus passengers, and advise states or school districts to consider this added safety benefit when purchasing seat belt-equipped school buses.” NHTSA: “Given that very few school bus-related serious injuries and fatalities would be prevented by a requirement mandating seat belts on large school buses, we could not assure that overall safety would not be adversely affected, particularly given the many competing demands on school resources and widely varying and unique circumstances associated with transporting children…” “After considering all available information, including the comments to the [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking], we cannot conclude that a requirement for seat belts on large school buses will protect against an unreasonable risk of accidents or an unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident.” “NHTSA has been repeatedly asked to require belts on buses, has repeatedly analyzed the issue, and has repeatedly concluded that compartmentalization provides a high level of safety protection that obviates the safety need for a Federal requirement necessitating the installation of seat belts.” NHTSA has also pointed out that “…the NTSB expressed concern that lap/shoulder belts have not been sufficiently researched in non-frontal crash modes, e.g., side, oblique and rollover crashes.” We recall well when NTSB first articulated this perspective, and wonder why you did not reiterate this recommendation to NHTSA in the current group of recommendations following the Chesterfield and Port St. Lucie investigations, especially if NHTSA did not previously provide acceptable followup on this matter? We also would like to point out that in its 2010 Final Rule NHTSA responded to a question about side impact testing from an NAPT member, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, that “…our side impact protection countermeasure research is still ongoing. We have been actively pursuing this research and expect to complete it soon.” We do not know if this research has been completed and are not aware that the results of this research have ever been published. Our members across the country are passionate about safety and need clear and definitive guidance from federal policy-makers. Our members must be able to justify school bus safety related decisions to local officials and taxpayers that always ask challenging questions and demand compelling facts before deciding where to authorize action or spend educational dollars. Many NAPT and NSTA members remain very concerned about the “unintended consequences” of belt use that NHTSA articulated in its 2011, 2010 and 2002 rulemakings and do not understand why the NTSB is not making a strong recommendation that NHTSA conduct the “sufficient research” the agency said it would undertake nearly a decade ago or at least show the results of the work it said nearly 4 years ago would be completed “soon.” We offer this perspective to address outstanding questions that NAPT and NSTA members share. Moreover, we feel so strongly about this shortcoming in necessary science that as part of our response to Recommendation H-13-36 we want the Board to know that NAPT may again petition NHTSA to conduct dynamic crash tests of school buses and evaluate kinematics in all of the various crash modes, including and especially side, oblique and rollover crashes. We hope you would support this effort. Additionally, many of our members wonder if upgrading the federally mandated engineering design called compartmentalization, an approach that NHTSA says “…provides a high level of safety protection that obviates the safety need for a Federal requirement necessitating the installation of seat belts”, might be a viable - or even better - solution than belts in side impact and rollover crashes. But such an update has not to our knowledge been considered, much less any analysis done to evaluate the premise. We continue to believe that consideration of an upgrade to the existing design of school bus passenger crash protection should be a worthy area of federal investigation before urging the installation and usage education of seat belts, when comprehensive testing of this passive technology in side, oblique and rollover crashes has not been done to validate performance. Again, based on NHTSA’s repeated conclusions, and the operational concerns of our members, we believe it is logical to at least do the requisite research to see if enhancing compartmentalization to provide better protection in side and rollover crashes might not be the best practice to augment the good performance in frontal crashes and further improve the safety of school bus occupants. We would hope the Board would support this in a recommendation. If anything, the wisdom of compartmentalization as an engineering design may have become more relevant as the school bus operational reality has become more difficult. Today, children of many cultures and languages ride school buses, making belt use education even more challenging. Bus drivers must deal more frequently with tighter schedules because of budget cuts, behavior issues, security concerns, and even potential personal legal liability for interventions aboard the bus, in addition to their fundamental responsibility of driving safely and getting children to and from school on schedule. In fact, NHTSA noted in its 2010 rulemaking, “School bus drivers were universally opposed to having belts on the buses, believing that belts were unnecessary, that they would impede emergency egress, and that drivers have limited means to get students to buckle up.” Finally, NAPT and NSTA have great concern about the Board’s implied recommendation that it supports lap belts as acceptable technology. Again, we point to the conflict with what NHTSA said in its 2010 Final Rule: “A number of commenters to the NPRM wanted NHTSA to ban lap belts. The NTSB believed that NHTSA’s 2002 school bus test program showed that lap belts afford occupants little if any safety benefit above that achieved by compartmentalization alone and may cause additional neck and abdominal injury.“ NHTSA concluded: “…we stand by our statement in the NPRM that we cannot conclude that lap belts either helped or hurt occupant injury outcomes. It was not possible to estimate lap belt performance or effectiveness.” In January 2007, NSTA offered in comments to NHTSA, “NSTA urges NHTSA to reconsider its position on lap belts.” In addition, NSTA noted, “Given the absence of a benefit from lap belts along with the evidence that lap belts can be harmful in severe crashes, NSTA disagrees with NHTSA’s decision to allow states to require lap belts on their school buses going forward. Our concern is that states will choose to mandate the less costly but ineffective two-point restraints in the mistaken belief that they are improving passenger safety. While we agree that the decision to require passenger restraints should be left to the states and local education agencies, we strongly believe that the only viable option other than compartmentalization alone is lap/shoulder belts; lap belts not should be a consideration. Therefore, we urge NHTSA to amend the proposed standards for voluntary installation of passenger restraints to preclude the installation of two-point belts.” According to NHTSA, this argument was supported by the NTSB in the agency’s rulemaking on “School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection:” “The NTSB believed that NHTSA’s 2002 school bus test program showed that lap belts afford occupants little if any safety benefit above that achieved by compartmentalization alone and may cause additional neck and abdominal injury.” Both NAPT and NSTA have a long public record of strong advocacy for elevating this discussion to a national level and for seeking a science-based rather than emotion-driven or “directionally correct” conclusion to the question of whether safety belts would definitively improve school bus passenger crash protection. Transporting children safely is our sole business. We are safety professionals ourselves. We share the Board’s passion for action; that’s one of the reasons NAPT petitioned NHSTA nearly 7 years ago to settle this matter once and for all. Unfortunately, they did not so there remains both public confusion and uncertainty regarding an important matter that deserves definitive resolution. We cannot in good faith advise our members, or the public, on this issue until the significant and conflicting policy differences between the two federal safety agencies are resolved, hopefully with the added science of dynamic crash testing that is customary and routine for all other motor vehicle recommendations and requirements. We would be pleased to meet with you to have a more thorough discussion about our concerns, and seek constructive next steps toward our mutual goal of making school bus transportation even safer.

From: NTSB
To: National School Transportation Association
Date: 10/30/2014
Response: We appreciate your plan to make your members aware of the circumstances of this accident and note that you will work with NAPT and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services to develop the recommended guidelines. We understand that you plan to submit the guidelines for inclusion in the 2015 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures guide. Pending completion of these actions, Safety Recommendation H 13-35 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: National School Transportation Association
To: NTSB
Date: 8/6/2014
Response: -From Michael J. Martin, Executive Director, National Association for Pupil Transportation and Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director, National School Transportation Association: NAPT and NSTA will use their communications channels to share the NTSB recommendation with our members. Safety education is an ongoing priory of both organizations. NAPT and NSTA also agreed to work collaboratively with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) to review the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures so states with belt use requirements have the latest information regarding the installation and use of these devices. If asked, we will also consult with NAPT and NSTA members in the six states that have belt requirements as they attempt to address your recommendation.

From: National School Transportation Association
To: NTSB
Date: 2/4/2014
Response: -From Michael J. Martin, Executive Director, National Association of Pupil Transportation and Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director, National School Transportation Association: This Letter is in response to your December 19, 2013 letter to the National Association of Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) requesting a meeting to discuss our December 9, 2013 joint response on safety recommendations H-­-13-­-35 and H-­-13-­-36 following the Chesterfield, New Jersey and Port St. Lucie, Florida 2012 school bus accident investigations. The senior leadership of NAPT and NSTA will be in Washington, D.C. for NSTA’s spring meeting and would like to propose a joint NAPT-­-NSTA meeting with the NTSB at that time. Given our schedule, we would like to propose 10:00am or 11:00am on Thursday, April 3, 2014. If that time is unacceptable, please suggest other times that could be available. We look forward to this discussion with you and your staff.

From: NTSB
To: National School Transportation Association
Date: 12/19/2013
Response: You indicated concerns regarding the differing positions of the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the complex history of school bus occupant protection. In lieu of an official written response, we would like to meet with representatives of NSTA to discuss your concerns and these recommendations in person; if you prefer, this could be a joint meeting with representatives of NAPT, as well. We will delay our formal review of NSTA’s response and classification of the recommendations until we have an opportunity to meet.

From: National School Transportation Association
To: NTSB
Date: 12/9/2013
Response: Michael J. Martin, Executive Director, National Association of Pupil Transportation and Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director National School Transportation Association: The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) are pleased to jointly respond to the recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations to our organizations for further improving the safety of school bus occupants. The recommendations, which were developed as a result of NTSB’s investigations of school bus crashes in Chesterfield, NJ and Port St. Lucie, FL, call on NAPT, NSTA and others to “Develop guidelines and include them in the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures to assist schools in training bus drivers, students and parents on the importance and proper use of school bus seat belts, including manual lap belts, adjustable lap and shoulder belts, and flexible seating systems” (H-13-35), and “Provide your members with educational materials on lap and shoulder belts providing the highest level of protection for school bus passengers, and advise states or school districts to consider this added safety benefit when purchasing seat belt equipped-school buses.” (H-13-36) We have tremendous respect for NTSB and consider your recommendations the starting point for a further collaboration to bring an important topic with a long and difficult history to a conclusion that our industry and the communities we serve can understand and embrace. Currently, there is no federal safety requirement for safety belts in large school buses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency with regulatory authority on the matter of occupant protection in motor vehicles, has for many decades worked to increase safety belt use in passenger cars and more recently in other vehicles. However, it has repeatedly come to the conclusion that safety belt mandates for large school buses are inadvisable and could actually be counterproductive to improving safety. Since the early 1980s we have transitioned from a nation where belt use was relatively small to majority usage, and there are now laws requiring it in all but one state. This leads to the commonly held opinion that “if my car has seat belts so should my child’s school bus”, which is one of the reasons calls for seat belts in school buses make headlines after every serious crash. While this is understandable, as we know, there are many reasons why most large school buses- with a safety record that’s the best in the transportation industry and a federally-conceived engineering design that is markedly different structurally and in usage than passenger cars - do not have safety belts. Now that NHTSA recently announced motor coaches will be required to have lap/shoulder belts beginning in 2016, already the general public and news media are asking, “Why motor coaches but not school buses?” NAPT and NSTA are prepared to explain to parents and the news media that school buses, motor coaches and the family car are very different vehicles from a crashworthiness perspective and, therefore, do not necessarily utilize the same safety strategies. We continue to believe that our safety record demonstrates that the “automatic” approach to protecting children in school buses, that was mandated for school buses by federal safety officials before seat belt use became popular, remains extremely effective. Six states - California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas - currently require belts to be installed in large school buses. These states were given a separate recommendation from the Board regarding developing informational materials on belt use, as well as training procedures for proper usage. As the largest industry trade association representing all states operating school buses (NAPT), and the association representing private school bus contractors (NSTA), our response to your recommendations seeks to address outstanding concerns in the states where belts are required on school buses, as well as those where they are not. Our intent is to provide the best possible information and clarity so everyone can make informed decisions about the efficacy of belts in the school bus operational environment, and how to best allocate resources among safety priorities. In response to Recommendation H-13-35, NAPT and NSTA will use their communications channels to share the NTSB’s recommendation with our members. Safety education is an ongoing priority of both organizations. NAPT and NSTA, also agree to work collaboratively with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) to review the next update of the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures so states with belt use requirements have the latest information regarding the installation and use of these devices. If asked, we will also consult with NAPT and NSTA members in the six states that have belt requirements as they attempt to address your recommendation. In response to Recommendation H-13-36, we cannot at this time support this recommendation. We acknowledge and appreciate the work the Board did in the Chesterfield, NJ and Port St. Lucie crash investigations. These investigations add additional information to the body of knowledge about school bus crash kinematics and safety belts. Frankly, however, NTSB’s conclusions and recommendations added to our conundrum as trade associations that must understand and represent many differing state and local views on this topic. A bit of history may be instructive: As a result of its 1999 special investigations report, Bus Crashworthiness Issues, NTSB recommended in November of that year that NHTSA “In two years, develop performance standards for school bus occupant protection systems that account for frontal impact collisions, side impact collisions, rear impact collisions, and rollovers.” (H-99-45). That recommendation was subsequently closed because of “Acceptable Alternate Action.” Apparently the alternate action was that NHTSA replied it was working on a 2-year research program that would scientifically determine the real-world effectiveness of current Federal requirements for school bus occupant crash protection and would evaluate alternative occupant crash protection systems in controlled laboratory tests. NTSB also recommended, “Once pertinent standards have been developed for school bus occupant protection systems, require newly manufactured school buses to have an occupant crash protection system that meets the newly developed performance standards and retains passengers, including those in child safety restraint systems, within the seat compartment throughout the accident sequence for all accident scenarios.” (H-99-46). This recommendation was closed with the notation, “Unacceptable Action.” We presume this meant NHTSA chose not to follow your recommendations on this very serious safety matter. In 2002, NHTSA issued a report to Congress that, for all intents and purposes, underscored the efficacy of compartmentalization as a good “passive” solution to protecting children riding in the unique operational circumstances of a school bus, and reinforced its preference for this system as the core of school bus passenger safety. In February 2007, NAPT petitioned NHTSA for rulemaking to establish “…a safety system that will definitively enhance the current passenger crash protection for all children that ride a school bus.” NAPT also asked NHTSA to help us educate the public about the importance of safe school bus transportation. In NAPT’s response to the subsequent rulemaking, NAPT called on NHTSA to conduct dynamic crash tests of school buses - as they do routinely and repeatedly with other passenger vehicles – to evaluate kinematics in all of the various crash modes, including and especially side, oblique and rollover crashes. To our knowledge, no such testing has been conducted. Problematic for us in responding to the Board’s recommendation H-13-36 is that in its March 2010 Final Rule on school bus occupant protection and again in 2011, NHTSA reached conclusions that in our view contradict the Board’s current recommendations In 2011, for example, NHTSA determined that requiring safety belts in school buses would not result in improved safety, and said that a federal seat belt mandate might actually increase fatalities by forcing more children into less safe modes of getting to and from school. In addition, the following statements also illustrate a dichotomy of perspective between NHTSA and NTSB: NTSB: “Provide your members with educational materials on lap and shoulder belts providing the highest level of protection for school bus passengers, and advise states or school districts to consider this added safety benefit when purchasing seat belt-equipped school buses.” NHTSA: “Given that very few school bus-related serious injuries and fatalities would be prevented by a requirement mandating seat belts on large school buses, we could not assure that overall safety would not be adversely affected, particularly given the many competing demands on school resources and widely varying and unique circumstances associated with transporting children…” “After considering all available information, including the comments to the [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking], we cannot conclude that a requirement for seat belts on large school buses will protect against an unreasonable risk of accidents or an unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident.” “NHTSA has been repeatedly asked to require belts on buses, has repeatedly analyzed the issue, and has repeatedly concluded that compartmentalization provides a high level of safety protection that obviates the safety need for a Federal requirement necessitating the installation of seat belts.” NHTSA has also pointed out that “…the NTSB expressed concern that lap/shoulder belts have not been sufficiently researched in non-frontal crash modes, e.g., side, oblique and rollover crashes.” We recall well when NTSB first articulated this perspective, and wonder why you did not reiterate this recommendation to NHTSA in the current group of recommendations following the Chesterfield and Port St. Lucie investigations, especially if NHTSA did not previously provide acceptable followup on this matter? We also would like to point out that in its 2010 Final Rule NHTSA responded to a question about side impact testing from an NAPT member, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, that “…our side impact protection countermeasure research is still ongoing. We have been actively pursuing this research and expect to complete it soon.” We do not know if this research has been completed and are not aware that the results of this research have ever been published. Our members across the country are passionate about safety and need clear and definitive guidance from federal policy-makers. Our members must be able to justify school bus safety related decisions to local officials and taxpayers that always ask challenging questions and demand compelling facts before deciding where to authorize action or spend educational dollars. Many NAPT and NSTA members remain very concerned about the “unintended consequences” of belt use that NHTSA articulated in its 2011, 2010 and 2002 rulemakings and do not understand why the NTSB is not making a strong recommendation that NHTSA conduct the “sufficient research” the agency said it would undertake nearly a decade ago or at least show the results of the work it said nearly 4 years ago would be completed “soon.” We offer this perspective to address outstanding questions that NAPT and NSTA members share. Moreover, we feel so strongly about this shortcoming in necessary science that as part of our response to Recommendation H-13-36 we want the Board to know that NAPT may again petition NHTSA to conduct dynamic crash tests of school buses and evaluate kinematics in all of the various crash modes, including and especially side, oblique and rollover crashes. We hope you would support this effort. Additionally, many of our members wonder if upgrading the federally mandated engineering design called compartmentalization, an approach that NHTSA says “…provides a high level of safety protection that obviates the safety need for a Federal requirement necessitating the installation of seat belts”, might be a viable - or even better - solution than belts in side impact and rollover crashes. But such an update has not to our knowledge been considered, much less any analysis done to evaluate the premise. We continue to believe that consideration of an upgrade to the existing design of school bus passenger crash protection should be a worthy area of federal investigation before urging the installation and usage education of seat belts, when comprehensive testing of this passive technology in side, oblique and rollover crashes has not been done to validate performance. Again, based on NHTSA’s repeated conclusions, and the operational concerns of our members, we believe it is logical to at least do the requisite research to see if enhancing compartmentalization to provide better protection in side and rollover crashes might not be the best practice to augment the good performance in frontal crashes and further improve the safety of school bus occupants. We would hope the Board would support this in a recommendation. If anything, the wisdom of compartmentalization as an engineering design may have become more relevant as the school bus operational reality has become more difficult. Today, children of many cultures and languages ride school buses, making belt use education even more challenging. Bus drivers must deal more frequently with tighter schedules because of budget cuts, behavior issues, security concerns, and even potential personal legal liability for interventions aboard the bus, in addition to their fundamental responsibility of driving safely and getting children to and from school on schedule. In fact, NHTSA noted in its 2010 rulemaking, “School bus drivers were universally opposed to having belts on the buses, believing that belts were unnecessary, that they would impede emergency egress, and that drivers have limited means to get students to buckle up.” Finally, NAPT and NSTA have great concern about the Board’s implied recommendation that it supports lap belts as acceptable technology. Again, we point to the conflict with what NHTSA said in its 2010 Final Rule: “A number of commenters to the NPRM wanted NHTSA to ban lap belts. The NTSB believed that NHTSA’s 2002 school bus test program showed that lap belts afford occupants little if any safety benefit above that achieved by compartmentalization alone and may cause additional neck and abdominal injury.“ NHTSA concluded: “…we stand by our statement in the NPRM that we cannot conclude that lap belts either helped or hurt occupant injury outcomes. It was not possible to estimate lap belt performance or effectiveness.” In January 2007, NSTA offered in comments to NHTSA, “NSTA urges NHTSA to reconsider its position on lap belts.” In addition, NSTA noted, “Given the absence of a benefit from lap belts along with the evidence that lap belts can be harmful in severe crashes, NSTA disagrees with NHTSA’s decision to allow states to require lap belts on their school buses going forward. Our concern is that states will choose to mandate the less costly but ineffective two-point restraints in the mistaken belief that they are improving passenger safety. While we agree that the decision to require passenger restraints should be left to the states and local education agencies, we strongly believe that the only viable option other than compartmentalization alone is lap/shoulder belts; lap belts not should be a consideration. Therefore, we urge NHTSA to amend the proposed standards for voluntary installation of passenger restraints to preclude the installation of two-point belts.” According to NHTSA, this argument was supported by the NTSB in the agency’s rulemaking on “School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection:” “The NTSB believed that NHTSA’s 2002 school bus test program showed that lap belts afford occupants little if any safety benefit above that achieved by compartmentalization alone and may cause additional neck and abdominal injury.” Both NAPT and NSTA have a long public record of strong advocacy for elevating this discussion to a national level and for seeking a science-based rather than emotion-driven or “directionally correct” conclusion to the question of whether safety belts would definitively improve school bus passenger crash protection. Transporting children safely is our sole business. We are safety professionals ourselves. We share the Board’s passion for action; that’s one of the reasons NAPT petitioned NHSTA nearly 7 years ago to settle this matter once and for all. Unfortunately, they did not so there remains both public confusion and uncertainty regarding an important matter that deserves definitive resolution. We cannot in good faith advise our members, or the public, on this issue until the significant and conflicting policy differences between the two federal safety agencies are resolved, hopefully with the added science of dynamic crash testing that is customary and routine for all other motor vehicle recommendations and requirements. We would be pleased to meet with you to have a more thorough discussion about our concerns, and seek constructive next steps toward our mutual goal of making school bus transportation even safer.

From: NTSB
To: School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council
Date: 8/13/2014
Response: We understand that the SBMTC is a subsidiary of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). As NASDPTS also received this recommendation and is working to address it on behalf of all its members, Safety Recommendation H-13-35 is classified CLOSED—RECONSIDERED.

From: School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council
To: NTSB
Date: 6/19/2014
Response: -From Ken Whisnant, Chairman, School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council: The accidents were similar in that they both involved school buses of the same size and mass, they were both struck in the side near the rear axle by vehicles of large mass after the school bus entered an intersection into the path of an oncoming truck. In both cases, the bus remained upright and rotated approximately 180-degrees after being struck. In the Chesterfield, NJ accident, the school bus, a 2012 model, was struck by a dump truck weighing 84,950 lbs and traveling between 40-45 mph. In Port St. Lucie, the 2004 model school bus was struck by a truck and trailer weighing 78,600 lbs and traveling 50-55 mph. Unfortunately, both accidents resulted in a fatality to a child on the school bus. Regarding the performance of the seat pan (bottom cushion) attachment to the seat frame, there were two distinct differences. In the Port St. Lucie, Florida accident a single seat cushion dislodged during the impact sequence. This seat, driver’s side- row 10, was where the fatally injured child was sitting. In the Chesterfield, New Jersey accident all the seat pans remained attached. There was a key difference between the seat frames in that the Chesterfield bus had self-latching cushions whereas the Port St. Lucie bus had turn style latches that required manually turning the latch after lowering the cushion onto the frame. Historically, school buses have been required to provide seats that have flip-up seat cushions to allow customers to clean under the seats more easily. Most cushion designs utilized some type of turn clip that retained the cushion once this clip was turned and oriented in the latched position. From SURVIVAL FACTORS GROUP CHAIRMAN’S FACTUAL REPORT for the Port Saint Lucie, FL accident page 11 states ‘Some of the latches were found to be loose…’ and on page 12 ‘The seat cushion attachments were inspected, and it was noted that many of the seat cushions were not latched down. The seat cushions without the latch engaged were: Driver side rows 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 and Passenger side rows 1, 2 ,4, 6, 8, 10, and 11 Deformation of the front seat cushion brackets were also found during the investigation. This deformation of the front brackets was not limited to occupied seats as both rows 4 and 6 on the driver’s side was found with the front brackets deformed and these seats were unoccupied per Figure 2- Seating Chart. However, these seats were also included in the list of seats found with cushions in the unlatched position. Therefore it is reasonable to attribute the cushion’s front bracket deformation to whether the cushion latch was engaged at the time of the accident. All elements of the hardware are necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the seat cushion attachment to the seat frame in the event of an accident. Unlatched cushions will put greater stress on the remaining hardware as a result as can be seen in Figure 1. With the 2008 release of NPRM for FMVSS 222, flip up cushions were required to self-latch when the cushion was closed because manually operated cushions could be left unlatched after cleaning and this change could benefit safety in a crash situation. The NPRM contained the following language: Reference: 2008 NPRM, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Seating Systems, Occupant Crash Protection, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection [Docket No. NHTSA-2008-0163] “Manually operated seat cushion latches can inadvertently be left unlatched after cleaning, and that the proposed self-latching mechanisms could ‘benefit safety in a crash situation.’ S5.1.5 Seat Cushion Retention (a) Seat cushion latching. For school buses manufactured on or after October 21, 2009, school bus passenger seat cushions equipped with attachment devices that allow for the seat cushion to be removable without tools or to flip up must have a self-latching mechanism that is activated when a 22-kg (48.4-pound) mass is placed on the center of the seat cushion with the seat cushion in the down position. As a result of this NPRM, all school bus seats produced since October 21, 2009 have some method to control lateral movement of the cushion. For cushions that flip up, these stops serve to ensure engagement of the match mechanism to prevent the cushion from potentially sliding and disengaging. Old style turn latch cushions had no features to limit the lateral movement. The Port St. Lucie school bus was manufactured in 2004 and did not have such features. Not all seats manufactured after October 2009 use flip up cushion designs as can be seen in Figure 5 and 6 below. It is impossible to say with certainty if the cushion that became dislodged was due to the fact the turn latch was not in the latched position at the time of the accident. However, seat cushion retention as this cushion was designed to handle certainly depends on it being latched. For that reason, ensuring that the seat cushions with manual turn latches are correctly latched is a means of safeguarding the structural integrity of the entire seat system including occupant interaction with the restraint system. From Highway Accident Report NTSB/HAR-13/01 PB2013-106638 page 32 for the Chesterfield accident it states: “All seat pans were attached postcrash” and there was no mention in any of the reports of damage to the seat securement hardware. The fact that these seat cushions all remained latched is significant as this accident actually resulted in two impacts for the school bus from opposing sides. First, the truck struck the left side of the school bus 65 inches rearward of the axle causing the bus to rotate almost 180 degrees and strike a traffic beacon support pole also behind the rear axle just one passenger seat row forward from the initial impact. This secondary impact was high enough to cause lateral intrusion into the aisle by almost 9 inches. School bus manufacturers and seat manufacturers response to NHTSA’s update to FMVSS 222 Seat cushion retention S5.1.5, to add a self-latching mechanism on seat cushions built after October 21, 2009, did establish safeguarding the school bus seating and restraint systems as was evident in the Chesterfield crash. Ensuring that the seat pan attachment to the seat frame is fully in the latched position on seat cushions built prior to October 21, 2009, would provide a safeguard to the structural integrity of the entire school bus seating and restraint system for those seats as well. Therefore the SBMTC, will request an update to the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures, school bus driver’s pre-trip inspection and annual inspections, to include a verification that buses manufactured before October 2009, having flip-up seat cushions with manual retention, shall be inspected and verified that the manual retention is in the latched position.

From: School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council
To: NTSB
Date: 1/29/2014
Response: -From Ken Whisnant, Chairman: The SBMTC would like to thank the NTSB for the opportunity to discuss Recommendation H-13-35 during yesterday’s conference call. We sincerely appreciate your time and eagerness to work with this council for the betterment of student transportation. We eagerly await the additional information that you agreed to provide that will be most helpful in understanding the dynamics involved in the accidents at Port St. Lucie, FL and Chesterfield, NJ. We feel that it would also be helpful if we could possibly have a face to face meeting in April. Bob Riley, the Executive Director of NASDPTS, has graciously agreed to work with your staff to set up a time during the National Student Transportation Association (NSTA) conference that will be held in Washington D.C. April 1st – 2nd. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

From: NTSB
To: National Safety Council
Date: 9/27/2016
Response: We are encouraged by your efforts to develop and distribute your policy position supporting the installation and proper use of seat belts on school buses. We understand that you continue to work on this issue and urge you to consider the recommended training elements in the further resolution you are developing. We look forward to receiving updates on your progress and to reviewing the resulting product. Pending completion of your efforts, Safety Recommendation H-13-035 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: National Safety Council
To: NTSB
Date: 8/23/2016
Response: -From Deborah A.P. Hersman, President and CEO: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AUGUST 12, 2016 National Safety Council Calls for Appropriate Child Passenger Restraints Across Multiple Modes of Transportation Improvements needed in airplanes and school buses Itasca, IL – The National Safety Council is calling for uniform child passenger safety practices across multiple modes of transportation including school buses, airplanes and personal vehicles. Among these recommendations, the Council urges the installation of lap and shoulder belts on new school buses with proper restraints for children with special needs, and NSC calls for all children ages 2 and younger to be properly restrained in their own seat on airplanes using an FAA-approved child restraint device. The Council also encourages ambulances, police vehicles and recreational vehicles to accommodate the unique needs of child passengers whenever possible, and calls for additional consideration when transporting children with special needs. “Our patchwork system of laws, regulations and standards means the safety of our most vulnerable travelers can slip through the cracks,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “It is time for consistent policies to ensure children arrive safely, regardless of the mode of transportation or the jurisdiction they travel through.” Seat belts are proven to save lives. Child restraints in personal vehicles reduce the risk of death by up to 71 percent among infants, 54 percent among toddlers and 45 percent among children ages 4-8.[i] Although school buses remain the safest way to transport children to and from school, seat belts add an extra layer of protection, particularly in roll-over and side-impact crashes. On airplanes, it is impossible for adults to safely hold children during a crash or severe turbulence. Additional National Safety Council recommendations include: Using a dynamically-tested child restraint device that is appropriate for each child’s weight, height, age and developmental level until proper seat belt fit is achieved - usually between ages 8 to 12. Requiring the use of rear-facing child restraint devices at least through 2 years of age. Using a five-point harness-equipped child restraint device appropriate for their height and weight through the upper limits of their seat and until at least age 5. Using a belt-positioning booster (BPB) seat until the seat belt fits correctly, at least until the child is 8 years old and 4-feet-9 and 80 pounds. Correct fit is typically achieved at older ages. Requiring children younger than 13 to ride in the back seat. If a child must ride in the front seat, the vehicle seat should be moved as far from the dashboard as possible.[ii] Using specific child restraint devices for children with special needs. Passing primary enforcement seat belt legislation in all states for all seating positions. A full explanation of National Safety Council recommendations can be found here.