Posted On: November 21, 2006 by Christopher T. Hurley

School bus crash kills three students; Bus had no seat belts

The debate over equipping school buses with seat belts was brought to the fore yesterday by a fatal school bus crash in Huntsville, Alabama. Yesterday morning three high school students were killed when the bus that was taking them from their high school to a technology center plunged over a concrete wall on an elevated stretch of Interstate 565 at the U.S. 231 exit and crashed nose-first about 30 feet below.

Witnesses said that a vehicle driven by another high school student made contact with the Laidlaw school bus, causing the bus to swerve and go over the edge of the highway.
A report by The Huntsville Times stated that the bus driver was not in the bus as it fell over the concrete safety barrier. Police officials would not say if the bus driver - who was seriously injured - was ejected from the bus or if he jumped out when the bus was briefly hung up on the safety wall before falling to the ground.

The school bus was not equipped with seat belts. 43 students were on the bus when it crashed. According to The Huntsville Times, the students landed on top of one another as the bus hit the ground nose-first, with students seated at the front of the bus being crushed under the weight of other students.

The National Transportation Safety Board will examine the crash site and investigate the incident.

The NHTSA, which sets standards for school buses, requires seat belts for buses under 10,000 pounds but not for larger buses. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently recommended that all new school buses include seat belts. The NHTSA has found that belts that only go over the lap might cause more injuries than they would prevent. The safer three-point lap and shoulder belts would reduce the risk of injury, but the NHTSA estimated that such a measure would cost up to $150 million each year while preventing only two fatalities each year nationwide.

The National PTA supports the installation of seat belts on all school buses. According to the resolution passed in 1998 by the National PTA, there were at least 62,000 school bus passenger injuries and 51 fatalities during the period 1991- 1996; research has concluded that high backed padded seats and seat belts together improve overall bus passenger safety by providing true compartmentalization in accidents, especially side impacts and rollovers; school buses manufactured after 1977 may be safely and effectively equipped with seat belts, as has been done in New York, New Jersey; and a large Type 1 school bus (66 passengers) can be equipped with seat belts for an additional $1,100 to $1,600.

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