SCHOOL BUS CRASH
Students Die in School Bus Crash
November 21, 2006
Reply from Arthur L. Yeager, DMD,
Wreck sparks talk on bus safety,
News spread quickly Monday morning about
the tragic school bus accident in Huntsville and generated talk among
many about the use, or lack of use, of seat belts on school buses.
By early afternoon, news had spread that
three Lee High School students were confirmed dead and at least three
were reported as critically injured after their bus plunged off an I-565
overpass and fell 30 feet. The students were en route to the Hunstville
Center for Technology.
Florence school system administrators
watched television news coverage of the accident.
"We're just sick about this tragedy, and
we're fully aware it could have just as easily happened here," said
Florence schools Superintendent Kendy Behrends. "Our hearts go out to
Laidlaw Transit Co. contracts buses for
the Florence district as well as Huntsville. The company operates 47 bus
routes for the Florence district.
Florence Schools Transportation Director
Randy Pettus said his district has been pleased with Laidlaw's
performances on all fronts, particularly from a student safety
"That's the most important factor, and
Laidlaw has an excellent safety record," he said, adding that the
Laidlaw fleet in Florence was recently named as having the safest
driving record in the state.
"The minor fender-benders we've had, have
been the faults of the other drivers," he said. "We're well pleased with
the services Laidlaw provides and feel they hold safety as the number
Questions have been raised regarding seat
belts on buses and if they would have prevented death or serious injury
in the Monday accident.
Carol Clemmons, Laidlaw's branch manager
in Florence, said seat belts in most cases would be detrimental to
passengers aboard buses. Such research, she said, is what keeps buses
from having seat belts.
"A lot of technology goes into
engineering the buses," Clemmons said. "In smaller children, there's a
high risk of spinal cord injuries from seat belts if used on buses. The
buckles could also be used as weapons on the bus and there's likewise no
way to monitor (the children) to make sure they stay buckled."
The only buses that have seat belts are
specially designed for handicapped students.
Dexter Newton, shop foreman for the
Lauderdale County school district bus garage, said schools follow state
law regarding seat belts on buses.
"Unless the issue comes up nationally,
and the law is changed at that level, there won't be seat belts," said
Newton, a 33-year employee of the Lauderdale district.
"In my many years here, I've seen time
and time again that the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road.
They're tested and built to withstand major impact," Newton said.
Newton said he knows of nothing that
would have changed the outcome of Monday's accident. He says he can
speculate that seat belts may have helped.
"Going off a ramp and plunging that far,
yes, seat belts could help, but there are far more cases where (seat
belts) would be a detriment," Newton said.
Colbert County High School senior
Michelle Mooney said every classroom at school watched the news Monday.
It sparked discussion in her classes.
"Seat belts would be beneficial because
even just hitting bumps, you fly up off the seat without a seat belt,"
Mooney said. "Who can say for sure, but I don't think there would have
been the fatalities or as serious of injuries if there had been seat
belts on that bus."
By Lisa Singleton-Rickman
Dear Mrs. Singleton-Rickman:
Re: Today's article on seat belts
November 21, 2006
Saw your article and read statements of
those opposed to seat belts on school buses. Here are some things to
When they are talking of seat belts they
are referring to the old fashioned lap type seat belt which can cause
harm in some severe front end, accidents because passengers "jackknife"
over the belt, hitting their heads on the seat back or the belt can ride
up causing harm to the belly. The three point belt, like in cars,
holds the torso in place and eliminates the chances of belt injury.
Three point belts are now required for all new buses in California and
are a current production line feature of school bus manufacturers.
Re overall school bus safety, a recent
study published in the Academy of Pediatricians journal Pediatrics
determined that bus safety has been persistently exaggerated by school
bus officials and reported that there are at least double the number of
injuries in school bus operations than have been officially stated.
Last week the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) added restraints on school buses to their highly
respected "Most Wanted List"
Why are there no seat belts on school buses?
Those who transport the children will
tell you that seat belts are not needed because children are safely
"compartmentalized" between high back, well anchored padded seats.
Here are some facts that you may find
While school buses may appear to be
reasonably safe, many parents become concerned when they find that their
large school buses are not equipped with seat belts. After all, from
the time their youngsters came home from the hospital, mother and dad
have been careful to place their children in child restraints.
Now, on the way to school, the habit of
seat belt use painstakingly learned is about to be broken.
Thirty-five years ago in California,
automotive engineers performed a classic series of school bus crash
studies, which determined that the major cause for injury in school bus
accidents was the inadequacy of school bus seats.
They proposed “compartmentalization” of
the child occupants between high-back, well-padded and well-anchored
seats capable of absorbing crash forces and proposed that massive aisle
side panels be installed to contain riders. A lap belt was also
suggested to provide substantial additional protection.
Then, in 1977, National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Agency responsible for U.S. school
bus safety standards followed by Transport Canada ordered some of the
proposed features; a seat better anchored, padded and 4 inches higher
than seats then in use. However, the standard fell far short by failing
to include the all-important compartmentalizing side panel, and the lap
belt. As a result “compartmentalization” was significantly compromised,
working adequately for front-end crashes but providing no passenger
protection in side impacts and bus rollovers.
Although the failure of the school bus
seat to properly “compartmentalize” in side impact and rollover
accidents has been detailed to authorities in petitions, during
legislative testimony and at forums, the responsible agencies have
stubbornly ignored the deficiency.
Although front-end school bus crashes
occur only about one-third of the time, school bus regulators in both
Canada and in the United States have persisted in obscuring the absence
of lateral and rollover protection by testing and evaluating the seat
entirely for front-end crashes and never measuring what happens to
passengers in side impact and rollover accidents. It is characteristic
of front-end crash testing to show the seat to its best advantage and
seat belts at their most inefficient.
Furthermore, testing only those
circumstances where the seat will perform well leads to conclusions that
serve to exaggerate the safety of school buses and implies a level of
safety that is invalid. By way of example, imagine a vehicle that has
good steering but faulty brakes.
If only the steering is tested the
authorities are able to insist that the vehicle is safe. And no matter
how many times the vehicle is tested, if only the steering is checked,
the myth of safety continues.
In the meanwhile, the inadequacy of the
braking system continues to cause harm.
While the motive for the unrelenting
denial this obvious defect is unclear, the resultant harm caused by
“compromised compartmentalization” to the child passengers is most
In September of 1999 the highly respected
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report on school
bus crashworthiness. The study described a series of school bus
accidents where “compartmentalization” failed to protect the
passengers. Children were injured and killed as a result of both
ejection and being tossed violently within the bus itself. The Board
concluded that, “Current compartmentalization” is incomplete in that it
does not protect school bus passengers during lateral impacts and in
rollovers, because in such accidents, passengers do not always remain
completely within the seating compartment." They explained that those
who were propelled from the compartment during collisions were more
likely to be injured.
Once again authorities have failed miserably in addressing the problem
of “compromised compartmentalization” in school bus side impact and
rollover accidents. As a direct result, children will continue to be
killed and injured in school bus accidents.
Concerned parents should demand that
local and state officials take more seriously their responsibilities to
protect their children.
Arthur L. Yeager, DMD, MMH
For the past 30 years, as an officer
of Physicians for Automotive Safety and the National Coalition for
School Bus Safety, Dr. Yeager has been a leader in efforts to improve
school bus safety
Crash Reports 2006