While school bus transportation is statistically one of the safest means of travel, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recently released several recommendations to increase the safety of school bus transportation. These recommendations came following the NTSB’s investigations of two, 2016 school bus crashes that involved multiple fatalities. These crashes occurred in Baltimore, Maryland and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The NTSB determined the probable causes of both crashes were driver-related issues and made several recommendations related to driver oversight by medical providers, licensing bodies and employers. In addition, the NTSB also made numerous recommendations for changes to the vehicles.
The NTSB recommended National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) require new buses be equipped with collision avoidance, as well as automatic emergency braking systems. In their analysis of the two, 2016 crashes, the NTSB concluded these systems could have prevented the Baltimore crash and reduced the severity of the Chattanooga crash. They also called on states to require lap-shoulder seatbelts for all passenger seating positions on large school buses. In the Chattanooga crash, their investigation determined the pre-crash motion of the bus threw the children from their seats making the compartmentalization method of protecting bus passengers in a crash ineffective. The NTSB report indicates, “Properly worn lap/shoulder belts provide the highest level of protection for school bus passengers in all crash scenarios, including frontal, side, and rear impacts – and rollovers.”
The NTSB also called for a requirement that school buses be equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR) capable of capturing and storing data in the event of a crash. Neither of the buses involved in the two, 2016 fatal crashes were equipped with EDRs capable of recording the pre-crash and crash dynamic data the NTSB considers useful in investigating and reconstructing crashes. In the Baltimore crash, the bus was not equipped with an event data recorder, while the Chattanooga bus was equipped with an engine control module (ECM) capable of recording data; however, it did not record in this crash. In any event, neither bus was capable of recording the amount of data the NTSB indicated they would like to see in the event of a crash. The NTSB provide a list of the parameters they would like to see recorded from bus EDRs in the future, the items listed are similar to those currently required by the NHTSA for EDRs in passenger vehicles.
The NTSB also repeated their 2009 recommendation to develop performance standards for stability control systems in commercial vehicles and buses weighing over 10,000 pounds, as well as require stability control systems in these vehicles. The NTSB concluded that such a system could have helped the Chattanooga bus driver maintain control of the bus and reduce the severity of the crash by slowing the bus.
While school buses are statistically one of the safest forms of transportation, the NTSB report points out that there is still room for improvement. Their 2018 recommendations include many items to address driver issue, but also include recommending the additions of technology to aid in limiting the effect of driver error. The 2018 report is the first time the NTSB has recommended requiring lap and shoulder seatbelts to school buses.
Traditionally, the requirements for occupant protection in large buses only included compartmentalization, that is, closely spaced, high-backed, padded seats, without seatbelts. While compartmentalization does provide some protection in frontal impacts, it does not offer protection to bus occupants in side or rollover crashes. In such crashes, the occupants are free to move about inside the bus during the crash and impact the interior of the bus and other occupants or be ejected out of the bus entirely. The addition of lap-shoulder seatbelts to buses will couple the occupants to the seats and limit their motion in the vehicle. This can be seen in testing conducted to compare belted versus unbelted occupant when a bus rolls onto its side.
Belted occupants are contained in their seats while the unbelted occupants are thrown into the bus roof and side. The incorporation of lap and shoulder seatbelts in buses will provide increased protection to occupants, especially when they are involved in a side impact or rollover.
To see the complete NTSB report, follow this link: www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/SIR1802.pdf