Following deadly crash, a look at school bus seat belts and 2-way stops

Following deadly crash, a look at school bus seat belts and 2-way stops

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by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey

KTVB.COM

Posted on December 6, 2013 at 8:33 PM

BOISE -- There are still unanswered questions about how several students were injured and one boy was killed in a school bus crash on Thursday morning. It is still unknown exactly how the children were injured or if seat belts would have made any difference.
   
The question of seat belts in school buses is a controversial topic: Some say seat belts would be safer, some say belting children in could be more dangerous, and others say installing them wouldn't make much of a difference in decreasing injuries or deaths.
   
Right now, six states (California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas) require seat belts in large buses. Idaho does not.

No federal requirement for seat belts

In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration denied a petition by a number of organizations to require seat belts on school buses, saying they hadn't found a safety problem supporting a federal requirement, but the decision could be made by states and local policy-makers.

The National Association for Pupil Transportation says it wants to see more studies done, and its director told KTVB , "We 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."

Idaho Senate Education Committee asked about seat belt costs

Again, Idaho hasn't made a seat belt requirement. However last year, the Idaho Senate Education Committee did ask about the cost of installing seat belts in school buses.
   
The Department of Education responded, with statistics showing buses as the safest way for children to get to school.

According to numbers compiled, the cost to get seat belts in all of Idaho's school buses would be more than $14 million, not including labor.

Some experts say buses are designed to be safe without
   
Within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's public information, the agency says children are protected without  needing to buckle up because of how the seats are made and configured.

The agency's website says: "NHTSA decided that the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through a concept called 'compartmentalization'.  This requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection such that children are protected without the need to buckle-up.  Through compartmentalization, occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs."
   
The agency concluded that most fatalities and injuries happen because the person was sitting in the direct line of the crash force and "that seat belts would not have prevented most of the serious injuries and fatalities from occurring in school bus crashes."
   
Report from similar crash in New Jersey says seat belts could have made a difference

While that information is out there, a recent National Transportation Safety Board report on a fatal bus crash involving a Mack truck at an intersection in New Jersey, did say "Although school buses are extremely safe, properly worn passenger seat belts make the school bus safer, especially in severe side impacts and rollovers."
   
Several factors in that fatal school bus crash are similar to the Idaho crash, such as a large truck striking the side of a bus departing from a two-way stop. Some other factors, like the truck's maintenance, are not yet known or are unlike the crash in Nampa.

To see government animations of that New Jersey crash, click here. The agency also made animations of what a seat belted child would have experienced versus an unrestrained child in the back of the bus.

Some lawmakers would like to see discussion of bus safety next session

While Idaho currently doesn't have a school bus seat belt law and it is unknown how that could have changed the outcome in this crash, there has been interest from at least one Boise lawmaker in possibly changing that with discussions next session.

Representative Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) stopped by KTVB on Friday afternoon to discuss his intent to run for the senate seat in his district next year, and discussed the bus safety issues as well. He said he'd like to see more research on the topic and look at perhaps changing Idaho's law.

"I remember being safety bussed to school, and getting on a bus that didn't have seat belts. My parents' car had seat belts, and I couldn't understand why at that age and I've wondered ever since. We try to get people to wear seat belts, yet the message we send to our children is you really don't have to wear a seat belt in this circumstances, so I think we send a mixed message there," Burgoyne said.

When asked about the potentially multi-million dollar price tag, Burgoyne said, "Safety has a cost. Fortunately during my lifetime we have seen safety improve and increase. We just can't tolerate school children being put at the risk of being on our roads and not having them in seat belts."

Majority of fatal intersection-related crashes in Idaho happen at 2-way stops

According to 2012 Idaho Transportation Department Data obtained by KTVB, 22 percent of fatal crashes happen at or are related to an intersection. Of those fatal crashes, 57 percent were at 2-way stops.

Of all total intersection crashes (fatal, injury, and non-injury), more crashes tend to happen at intersections with stop lights than at 2-way stops, but are far less often fatal.

ITD says crashes at 2-way stop intersections and those with yield signs tend to be more severe because the cross traffic is not slowing down. Additionally, speed limits are often higher on those roads than on a road with a 4-way stop.
 

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