Child Safety & School Buses
We met up with Denise Donaldson, Editor at Safe Ride News, at the STNExpo (school bus expo) in Reno last month. Here she shares with SafeKids.org some information about keeping kids safe on school buses. This is information parents of young children should know if their child ever travels on a school bus.
One Solution Does Not Fit All For CPS on School Buses
What might be the longest word in the standardized Child Passenger Safety curriculum is also likely to be the main concept that most CPS Technicians know regarding CPS on school buses: compartmentalization. This is the egg-carton approach to crash protection that pairs padded, high-back bus seats with the requirement for narrow row spacing. Provided the occupant is seated appropriately at the time of the crash, this method is shown to adequately protection school-age children and adults in frontal crashes.
However, did you also know that compartmentalization does NOT provide adequate protection in a couple of common situations? Whenever the bus is too small, or the child is too small or young, CPS on school buses becomes a much more interesting and complex topic.
Therefore, NHTSA requires those small buses to have seat belts in all seating positions, and the belts on buses of this size made since October 2011 must be lap and shoulder types, not lap-only belts. These very-small buses make up a minor fraction of the overall bus fleet in the U.S., but are the types often used to transport children with special needs. Since 2003, buses with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less are also required to have two seating positions with LATCH lower anchors.
The other situation is when preschool-age children ride on school buses. A surprising number of children under age 5 ride on school buses every day, such as many of the over one million preschoolers in Head Start. In fact, many children under one year old ride on school buses, for instance to participate in programs of Early Head Start or to accompany teenage parents to school.
Based on testing, NHTSA determined that children younger than kindergarten age are not adequately protected by compartmentalization. Occupants that are this small do not have the weight needed to interact properly between the padded seats in a crash, and instead may slip down under the seats. And this is true on a bus of any size—compartmentalization simply cannot protect preschool-age children. Therefore, NHTSA requires that age/weight appropriate child safety restraint systems (CSRS) be identified and used for them.
These are the all-too-common cases in which providing adequate protection for bus riders is far more complex than simple compartmentalization. Add the fact that most districts are responsible for transporting some students with special needs that require the use of CSRS for added protection, and it becomes clear that considerable care and planning must be involved to safely transport children to school.
In many situations, identification of the appropriate rear- or forward-facing mode must be addressed in the same manner as in a car: matching the child’s needs with a CSRS that fits the anchorage and space available. On a school bus, this can be a particularly interesting challenge.
SR4K note: The RideSafer Travel Vest is a good solution to safely restrain children 3 and up in school buses. The vest has been shown to be very effective and even preferred to other types of restraints for children with disabilities.