Federal transportation officials last week convened a meeting in Washington on school bus safety, with a focus on a fresh assessment of whether passenger seat belts should be required.
Several school bus safety studies in recent years have concluded that the widely used system of “compartmentalization,” which has children in seats or compartments surrounded by high, wide seat backs and with all metal surfaces covered by impact-absorbing padding, is the safest possible defense against injuries in case of a bus crash. The federal government has declined in the past to require seat belts on school buses.
But recent crashes, including a November 2006 accident in Huntsville, Ala., in which four high school students were killed when a school bus went off a highway overpass, appear to have helped prompt the review.
“We owe it to our children to look at this data with fresh eyes and ask ourselves: Is this still the best decision today?” Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters said at the July 11 session led by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Representatives from several states and school districts that require seat belts on school buses were on hand to discuss their experiences with the safety devices.
The NHTSA hopes to propose new recommendations for school bus safety later this year, officials said, with topics possibly to include increasing the height of seats or guidance for states on implementing seat belt laws.
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week