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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Public Forum on Seat Belts on School Buses Held

U.S. Department of Transportation Partnering with Organizations to Make School Bus Safety Even Safer

Recently, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters asked state and local governments, education officials, school bus manufacturers, safety advocates and consumer organizations to aid the federal government in assessing the effectiveness of seat belts on school buses.

"The statistics tell us that school buses are the safest form of transportation on our highways," Secretary Peters said at the day-long public meeting on the safety benefits, economic factors and other issues related to requiring seat belts on large school buses. "The question we should ask is how we can make them even safer."

The concept of providing protection by compartmentalization is what federal standards for large school buses are based on. Compartmentalization does not require seat belts, but employs a protection system not unlike eggs in a carton. It brings together flexible, energy-absorbent, high seat backs and narrow spacing between each row to create a compartment that confines the student during a crash.

Peters asked meeting attendees to think about the best way to improve students' safety while riding on school buses. "We owe it to our children to look at this issue with fresh eyes. With that in mind, it's time to look at seat belts on buses," she said.

Research gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals that an average of 21 deaths involving school-aged children with school buses occurs each year. Of those deaths, 6 are passengers inside the school bus and 15 are pedestrians around the school bus. Nearly half a million school buses transport over 25 million students each year, traveling a total of 4.3 billion miles annually. School buses are still the safest means of transporting students to school and school-related activities, explained NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason.

"Even though the numbers aren’t large, we still have fatalities and injuries on school buses every year," Nason said. "If there are sensible and practicable ways to more safely transport our children to school, it is our responsibility to investigate and make them a reality."

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