For the first time in its 51-year history, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is weighing in on school bus seat belt regulations.
All new school buses should include 3-point safety belts, securing around the lap and shoulder, according to a recommendation from the federal agency. The official suggestion comes in a report filed in the wake of two deadly 2016 incidents, in which a cumulative 12 people were killed and 37 injured.
The NTSB is charged with investigating significant accidents involving all major modes of transportation. Agency officials also recommended all new school buses include collision avoidance systems, automatic emergency braking, and electronic stability control, among other safety enhancements.
Currently, eight states—Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Texas—have laws calling for any safety belt requirements, and they only specify that a bus include lap belts.
The remaining 42 states, plus Washington, D.C., have no school bus seat belt rules at all, though last year, lawmakers in 29 states proposed some form of legislation on the issue.
For its part, NTSB officials have called school buses “the safest vehicle(s) on the road” thanks to a unique engineering feature called “compartmentalization.” The design utilizes special energy-absorbing steel along with high-backed seats to protect a child in an accident, much like a carton securing an egg.
Such safety features have helped keep death rates low, with an average of six fatalities a year out of more than 25 million student passengers, the federal agency has said.
Still, the pair of recent tragedies, which took place in Baltimore, Maryland and Chattanooga, Tennessee, spurred the group to investigate further. That lead it to issue the recent recommendations despite finding the driver primarily responsible in both cases.
The report comes on the heels of yet another deadly school bus incident in Paramus, New Jersey, where a student and a teacher were killed during a field trip. The May 17 accident was caused when driver Hudy Muldrow, Sr. allegedly swerved across several lanes of traffic, colliding with a dump truck.
Muldrow has since been charged with two counts of reckless vehicular homicide, an offense that can result in up to 10 years in prison.