NTSB stops short of recommending seat belts on buses

The NTSB said seat belts make buses safer, but won't require them.
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As many schools in central Indiana resume classes in the next few weeks, the National Transportation Safety Board is taking a new look at school bus safety.

The NTSB is focusing on what happens to buses and passengers in a crash. Board members praised the value of seat belts, but didn't say what many parents want to hear.

Indiana children ride 16,000 school buses every day. The NTSB recommendations are intended to keep them safer.

Last year, a New Jersey school bus was hurled into a utility pole by a speeding truck. Even though it was equipped with seat belts, one child was killed and several others critically injured. Federal investigators concluded buses are already extremely safe, but even safer with lap and shoulder belts.

But the NTSB stopped far short of recommending they be required.

Linda Znachko was disappointed but not surprised.

"I think we need to put the dollar value aside and need to consider the issue of 'Do we value life or don't we?'," she said.

Znachko became a seat belt advocate after coming to the aid of Daniel Smith, whose daughter Donasty was killed in a school bus crash last year. The impact threw the little girl from the safety of her seat.

"I'm going allow these families to drive up to a bus stop and unbuckle their children out of a car seat or out of a seat belt and put them on a bus who no seat belts? It makes no sense to me at all," said Znachko.

In the New Jersey crash, investigators found many children unfortunately were wearing their seat belts improperly or not at all.

Where seat belts are already required - six states and several communities - the NTSB recommends schools educate students and parents on the benefits and potential consequences of not using them.

It also wants trade associations to show schools on how lap and shoulder belts provide the highest level of protection. Members repeated their call for safety standards to ensure bus side walls and seats protect their passengers.

The NTSB looked at many safety issues. The truck was overloaded, its brakes were out of adjustment and it was traveling 10 mph faster than the speed limit. The bus driver pulled into the path of the truck and told investigators he didn't see the truck was upon him.

The investigation determined the man was fatigued, sleep-deprived and treating his condition with alcohol and prescription drugs. Had the examining doctor done a more thorough required medical evaluation, the NTSB concluded the driver would have likely been prevented him from driving a school bus.