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Thursday, October 23, 2008

U.S. School Buses Made Safer

New Federal Rule Approves Federal Funds to Pay for Seat Belt Installations

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters recently announced that the nation's 474,000 school buses will soon become safer thanks to new federal rules that will require higher seat backs, lap and shoulder belts on small school buses, and seat belts on large school buses.

Secretary Peters said, "Even though riding in school buses is the safest form of travel in America today, any accident is still a tragedy. Taken together, these steps are designed with a single purpose, making children safer."

The new rule calls for all new school buses to be equipped with 24-inch-high seat backs, instead of the 20-inch-high seat backs mandated today. Higher seat backs decrease the chance of injury by preventing taller and heavier children from being thrown over the seat in a crash. These higher seat backs will also help prevent injury to the children seated in front of them.

In addition, every new school bus weighing less than five tons will be required to have three-point seat belts. The Secretary pointed out that smaller school buses are more vulnerable because they don’t absorb shock as well as larger buses, and the lap and shoulder belts offer more protection to children in small buses.

Secretary Peters said the federal government was also implementing new standards for seat belts on large school buses, which will improve seat belt safety and help lower the cost of installing the belts. She warned that seat belts on larger buses could reduce capacity and force more students to walk or ride in cars to school, which is statistically more unsafe.

"The last thing we want to do is force parents to choose other, less safe ways of getting their children to school," she said. That is why she said the federal government also would begin allowing school districts to use federal highway safety funds to pay for the cost of installing belts.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Thomas Barrett outlined the new school bus rules during a visit to a Deatsville, Ala., elementary school with the state's Governor, Bob Riley. "No school district should have to choose between books and safety," Barrett said.

"I thank Secretary Peters and Deputy Secretary Barrett for their leadership on this important issue. These new measures will make children on school buses safer and give states a clear picture of what they can do to better protect students," Governor Riley said.

The new rule was prompted by phone call from the Governor to Secretary Peters following a November 2006 bus crash in Huntsville. "The fact that there are so few fatalities on buses every year is little solace for a grieving parent or a saddened governor," Barrett said.

To read the rule, go to:

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