The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants all new school buses to have seat belts.
The independent federal agency, charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, released its findings Tuesday from its special investigation into school bus safety issues. The investigation focused on the November 2016 crash involving a Baltimore City school bus and a transit bus, as well as a school bus crash that occurred that same month in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The two crashes injured 37 people and killed 12.
The NTSB found that, although school busses are “the safest vehicles on the road, and one of the safest modes of transportation overall,” certain enhancements could “close gaps in school bus safety.” These enhancements include lap/shoulder seat belts and technological improvements such as electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking, and event data recorders.
However, insofar as the two investigated crashes are concerned, poor driver oversight was the key issue:
The report cites the overall safety of school buses yet notes a similarity in the two fatal accidents investigated. The lack of driver oversight which was found to be causal in both accidents. The NTSB found this lack of oversight by not only the school districts in Baltimore and Chattanooga, but also by the motor carriers under contract to the school districts to provide student transportation, which employed the drivers in the two crashes.
In both cases, school bus drivers continued to operate school buses unsafely, with no remedial action taken, even when driver safety issues were known. In addition to lack of oversight, the Baltimore report focused on medically unfit school bus drivers, and commercial driver license fraud.
NTSB issued safety recommendations to the State of Maryland, Maryland State Department of Education, Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Maryland School Bus Contractors Association, as well as to a number of other public and private entities.
The NTSB recommended that 42 states (including Maryland), the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico adopt legislation requiring lap/shoulder belts on new, large school buses. It recommended that Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York amend their existing statutes requiring lap-only belts to require lap and shoulder belts, instead.
In the past, MACo has weighed in on proposed legislation requiring the retrofit of existing school buses with seat belts, citing cost concerns. The NTSB recommendation only applies to newly purchased school buses moving forward.