Government considers stronger bus restraints

Almost 500,000 buses in this country transport over 25 million students to and from school daily, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. However, the NTSB has criticized the lack of safety requirements and has recommended 3-point seatbelts. Failure to equip bus with seat belts led to student fatalities and could be the basis of wrongful death actions until buses are properly equipped.

The NTSB reached its conclusions after investigating fatal school bus crashes in Baltimore and Chattanooga, Tenn. Six children died in the bus accident in Chattanooga in 2016. In that crash, the NTSB found that the absence of lap-shoulder seatbelts played a role in the accident's severity.

School buses are protected by compartmentalization technology which is, according to the NTSB, a passive occupant protection system. Seats are constructed with an energy-absorbing steel interior and have high backs that are padded and attached to the floor of the bus. This technology is intended to protect students by absorbing shock.

The NTSB reviewed accidents where children were killed or suffered serious injuries and found that they were usually side-impact collisions or high-speed roll-overs. It concluded that compartmentalization did not prevent all the injuries. Some children would have suffered less severe injuries or even escaped death by being restrained by a seat belt.

Ohio is one of 42 states that do not require seat belts on larger school buses. Most local school buses in Ohio are not equipped with these devices.

The state requires training for bus drivers and ongoing inspection of buses. School districts, however, have questioned whether the cost of equipping the buses with this device is warranted and whether seatbelts would protect students in roll overs or bus fires.

Some districts partially adopted this safety feature. For example, Marietta's school buses that carry preschool children and some other vehicles have 4-point harness systems that are like car seats. Its buses that carry special needs children have lap and shoulder belts.

Failure to equip buses with reasonable safety features may be grounds for a lawsuit after a fatal accident. An attorney can help assure that victims and their families can seek compensation in these crashes.

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