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Changes To Reduce Injury Risk in Small Buses Urged

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Washington--While small school buses generally provide "good crash protection," a series of modifications could reduce the risk of injury to children riding in the front seats, according to a new report on bus safety.

The report, adopted by the National Transportation Safety Board last week, focuses on school buses with passenger capacities of between 10 and 24 children. Such buses, the ntsb estimates, represent 10 percent to 15 percent of the nation's 361,000 public-school buses.

The document represents the second half of an ntsb investigation into school-bus safety. The first report, issued in 1987, examined the crash performance of larger school buses--those with a gross vehicle weight of at least 10,000 pounds.

The new report is based on ntsb investigations of 24 crashes involving small school buses manufactured after April 1, 1977, when fed4eral school-bus safety standards went into effect.

Small school buses "generally provide good crash protection to both restrained and unrestrained passengers," an executive summary of the report states.

In general, the ntsb found, in the accidents studied, "injuries were minor, regardless" of whether people were wearing seatbelts.

But the ntsb investigators also concluded that police accounts of school-bus accidents "often were not accurate" in detailing whether passengers were wearing seatbelts, how severe the injuries sustained were, or where the passengers were located.

"Evaluation of lap-belt performance based on these sources may be misleading," the report states.

Further Study Recommended

Investigators also found that front-end crashes put front-row passengers "at special risk of injury," particularly to the head and face, "because of the absense or peculiar design of a restraining barrier.''

The report notes that further study is needed to upgrade safety because the smaller buses "frequently carry passengers who are the most vulnerable of all ... very young students or passengers with some form of disability."

The report includes several recommendations addressed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the School Bus Manufacturers Institute, and national pupil-transportation organizations. Specifically, the report advises the highway-safety administration to:

  • Examine the feasibility of providing restraints to protect the upper torso of front-seat passengers.
  • Study the relationship between barrier design and injuries to front-seat passengers.
  • Determine if the roof and emergency exits used on small buses should meet the same safety standards as those set for larger buses.

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