Smaller school buses will have to be equipped with lap-and-shoulder seat belts for the first time and larger buses will have higher seatbacks under a federal government rule announced on October 15th. Under the rule the seat belts will only have to be installed in new buses weighing five tons or less. The requirement will not take effect until 2011. It should be noted that these smaller school buses are already required to have lap belts, but not the safer, harness-style belts. There was no seat belt requirement for larger buses and that is still the case. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said she stopped short of requiring seat belts for larger buses because that could limit the number of children that can squeeze into seats, forcing some children to travel in ways that she says aren’t as safe as school buses. That may make sense to the government, but I have difficulty with that observation.
The Transportation Department estimates it will cost about $6.1 million a year to equip new, smaller buses with the three-point seat belts and higher seat backs, and $3.6 million a year to equip new, larger buses with higher seat backs.
The rule increases the required height of seatbacks on new buses to 24 inches, up from the current 20 inches. The government says higher seat backs will help keep taller, heavier children from being thrown over seats in a crash. The rule will be phased in beginning in the fall of 2009 and become fully effective in 2011.
The federal government – along with the State of Alabama – started to explore the question of school bus safety after four students were killed when their bus nose-dived off an interstate overpass in Huntsville two years ago. Our firm is involved in that tragic occurrence and we have a death case set for trial on December 8th.
Source: Associated Press
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