Impassioned debates about safety tend to follow every deadly wreck involving a school bus — such as Thursday’s tragedy in Morris County, New Jersey.
A bus collided with a dump truck and flipped, resulting in two deaths and 43 people injured, according to Gov. Phil Murphy. One of the deceased is a child, while the other is an adult, he said. Some of the injured were in critical condition and undergoing surgery.
Unnerved parents across the nation are undoubtedly wondering: Should our children be wearing seat belts as they ride to and from school?
In fact, federal law requires smaller school buses — those weighing 10,000 pounds or less — to have lap-shoulder belts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. School buses above that weight are not mandated to provide seat belts for passengers.
States or local jurisdictions, however, are free to pass stricter regulations.
Seven States – Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas — have passed some variation of a seat belt law for larger school buses (even if funding had not been appropriated in all cases), notes the National Conference of State Legislatures.
There are strong voices on both sides of the school bus seat belt issue.
Protected by ‘compartmentalization’
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation, is responsible for keeping people safe on America’s roadways. It enforces vehicle performance standards and partnerships with state and local governments.
The agency’s regulatory documents and its website consistently maintain the position that seat belts in larger school buses are not necessary.
“There is no question that seat belts play an important role in keeping passengers safe,” the website notes. “But school buses are different by design, including a different kind of safety restraint system that works extremely well.”
As explained by the agency, large school buses are heavier than passenger cars and distribute crash forces differently, resulting in bus passengers experiencing much less crash force than those riding in passenger cars, light trucks or vans.
Since small school buses are closer to cars in both size and weight, seat belts are necessary to provide protection in those vehicles, it says. School buses weighing 10,000 pounds or less — the smaller ones — must be equipped with lap and/or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions.
However, large school buses are a different matter, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In these large vehicles, an engineering concept called compartmentalization — which translates, in practice, to strong, closely spaced seats and energy-absorbing seat backs — protects children from crashes.
The nation’s school bus fleet is 2½ times the size of all other forms of mass transportation combined, while each school day, more than 25 million American children ride in these buses to and from school, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation, a trade association in the student transportation industry.
As to whether seat belts would increase safety in larger school buses, the trade association states that “a great deal of ambiguity remains.”
A clear opposing viewpoint to the official position of the federal government, though, is espoused by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It offers a long trail of published studies and editorials about school bus safety, including the use of seat belts, reaching all the way to the mid-1980s.
“Simply put, in a perfect world, all school buses would have seat belts in all seating positions. Sadly, it’s a more complex world than that,” said Dr. Ben Hoffman, chairman of the academy’s Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention and a practicing pediatrician at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, describing the policy.
Hoffman said the academy’s position has always been “that seat belts on school buses would be a good thing for kids.”
‘Astronomically high’ costs
The principle of compartmentalization protects children “to a large degree,” Hoffman said. “We do know that school buses, in the grand scheme of things, tend to be very safe vehicles, They travel at relatively lower speeds most of the time, they travel predictable routes, they’re very visible, and they’re also very big so that in the event of a collision, they’re gonna tend to win.”
So, for the majority of minor crashes, “compartmentalization works,” he said, though this doesn’t mean a child provided with a seat belt or seat harness wouldn’t have a lower risk of injury.
School bus rollovers and high-speed crashes are “where we probably would see the greatest benefit” in adding belts to buses, Hoffman said. “Fortunately, those tend to be very rare.”
Ultimately, the biggest barrier to retrofitting school buses with seat belts is the cost, which would be “astronomically high,” he said. And since school buses have a lifespan of somewhere between 10 and 20 years, even if municipalities passed policies to require seat belts, they would probably be for newly purchased buses. In that scenario, it would take a long time for an entire fleet to become fully equipped.
Most recently, in May, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for students with special health care needs, including the approximately 300,000 who travel seated in wheelchairs on school buses each day. This new policy, Hoffman said, “is really about establishing guidelines to ensure that every child can be transported safely to school, regardless of their ability or disability.”
“National PTA advocates that all new school buses be equipped with three-point seat belts,” said Heidi May Wilson, a spokeswoman for the organization. Additionally, the PTA endorsed a bill introduced in the House of Representatives last year that requires the Department of Transportation to establish a program to provide school buses with seat belts and other safety features.
Generally, school buses are much safer than traveling in a private car, Hoffman said. “The majority of injuries that occur with school buses actually occur getting on and off the bus or happen around a bus rather than in a moving bus.”
Student, Driver Escape Burning School Bus in New Jersey
A school bus caught fire and became engulfed in flames while on a route to school in New Jersey Tuesday morning, police say.
The bus, which was headed to Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Mahwah, had just picked up its first student, 11-year-old Rocco Arcese, when Arcese alerted the driver to the smell of smoke.
“I was like, ‘We should get off,” Arcese told News 4.
Flames quickly spread and engulfed the entire bus within minutes, ravaging the entire front of the bus and burning the seats inside.
“I saw burning rubber falling from the bottom, and flames,” Arcese said.
The driver and the boy quickly got off the bus, and responding firefighters knocked out the blaze. No injuries were reported.
As soon as they were safe, Arcese called his mother, who at first didn’t believe him. Then her son’s cool demeanor helped calm her nerves, she said.
“He’s such a calm kid, and I knew he was OK,” Stacy-Perone Arcese, Rocco’s mother, said. “And I was OK ’cause I knew he’d be OK.”
Arcese said it’s not the first time he smelled smoke on a bus. His mother hopes it’s the last.
“I think they all maybe need to be revamped in some way, shape or form,” she said.
The fire is believed to have been caused by a mechanical problem, according to the fire chief.
It wasn’t the only scare involving a school bus across the Tri-State on Tuesday morning. Five elementary age children were taken to a hospital with minor injuries after their mini school bus careened into a house on Long Island. The school bus driver was also hospitalized. The cause of the crash in Amityville was under investigation.
from official BBC website
By Checkey Beckford
NY Senator: Cameras can catch cars illegally passing school buses
A New York state senator wants to use cameras to catch motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses.
Republican Sen. Catharine Young’s proposal would allow the cameras to be mounted on the stop arm of a bus and record any car that passes when the arm is extended.
Young, from Olean, says the evidence from the cameras could be used to issue tickets to motorists who break the law. She cited studies estimating that drivers around New York state pass school buses thousands of times each day.
She says similar proposals have been introduced in state legislatures around the country as a way to crack down on motorists who put children at risk.
Young and other supporters plan to discuss the legislation at a press conference Tuesday.
School bus safety bills, including targeting illegal passing, move forward in Assembly
A series of bills that advocates say will help improve school safety in New York State passed a key legislative committee on Tuesday.
The Assembly Transportation Committee reported out five bills, moving them to further committees, including one measure that would allow stop arm cameras to be installed on school buses. Members of New York’s Association for Pupil Transportation have been advocating for legislation to, among other things, help law enforcement officials catch drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses.
“These (bills) have been priorities of the school transportation community and we are pleased to see them advance like this,” Peter Mannella, Executive Director of New York’s Association for Pupil Transportation, said in a statement.
When a bill is reported out by the Assembly committee, that means it passed in that committee. In this instance, they will move to the codes committee for further consideration.
The stop arm camera legislation would be discretionary for school boards to pass a resolution authorizing the cameras to be installed and used on buses. Enforcement of illegally passing school buses has become the focus of a yearly crackdown on drivers on New York’s roads in recent years.
An estimated 54,962 drivers statewide passed a school bus on a single day in March 2017. Nationwide, an estimated 10 million drivers illegally pass stopped school buses each year.
A first-time conviction for illegally passing a school bus could result in fines ranging from $250 to $400, five points on the drivers’ license and potentially 30 days in jail.
Not every incident involves in a ticket issued against the driver, according to police. Sometimes a warning is given.
Another of the bills, which was designed to enhance drug and alcohol testing protocols for school bus drivers, was sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell.
The legislation would increase the number of drivers who are subjected to such testing, as well as increasing the number of hours that must elapse before a driver can operate a school bus.
“School bus drivers are entrusted with transporting students to and from school safely,” Lupardo said in a statement Tuesday.
“Under current law, drivers of smaller buses are not required to be tested for drugs and alcohol,” she said. “By closing this loophole, we’ll make the school commute safer for children and for other motorists on the road. I’m glad this bill has made it out of the Transportation Committee and is one step closer to a vote on the Assembly floor.”
Other bills reported out Tuesday in the Assembly’s Transportation Committee included:
Creation of a fund to promote awareness of school bus safety and particularly increase public understanding about the dangers of illegal passing.
Doubling fines for drivers of large commercial vehicles that pass stopped school buses.
Providing license suspension for multiple convictions of illegally passing stopped school buses. It would impose a 60-day suspension on any motorist who is convicted two or more times of illegally passing a stopped school bus.
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