The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced a recall for more than 50,000 school buses in the United States. The Agency found that the seats of the buses may have been manufactured with styrene blocks that may not provide sufficient impact absorption in the event of a crash.
Hundreds of these affected school buses belong to Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. MCPS is the largest school district in Maryland and one of the largest in the United States. It includes over 100 elementary schools and dozens of middle and high schools serving Bethesda, Rockville, and Gaithersburg, and the surrounding areas. About 800 of the district's 1,300 buses of the MCPS bus fleet are affected by the recall.
A representative from the MCPS said that affected buses will remain in operation until the necessary safety upgrades can be made. The school system hopes to finish all the fixes by the end of the school year in June. “From what we understand, the risk is very small. But with anything pertaining to student safety, we want to respond quickly, and that is what we're doing,” stated the District representative. She further added that the District is working closely with the manufacturer to address the needed repairs.
According to the NTSB report, the bus manufacturer, Daimler Trucks North America is in the process of contacting owners. Dealers will install additional impact material between the back and vinyl padding of the seat to increase the amount of absorption.
In the statement regarding bus safety, MCPS also discussed the issue of seatbelts. The District stated that the field of school bus safety is evolving and the latest research is showing that seat belts can enhance the safety of students on school buses. There is no uniform rule regarding seatbelts on school buses in the United States. Smaller school buses that weigh 10,000 pounds or less are required to have lap-shoulder belts under federal motor vehicle safety standards. In most states, seatbelts are not required on larger buses. Larger school buses are safer than cars by design because they are heavier and come outfitted with strong, closely-spaced seats that offer crash protection even without seatbelts, according to NHSTA. Smaller school buses, which are closer in size and weight to passenger cars and trucks, and therefore more dangerous, making seatbelts a requirement for these vehicles.
Eight states (Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) have passed legislation requiring that seatbelts be installed on school buses. There has been growing interest among states in requiring seatbelts on school buses. In 2017, at least 29 states introduced bills to address the issue. Even in states where seat belts may be required, in some cases, it is required only if funding is provided by the state or school districts. There are two kinds of seatbelts on school buses: the older lap belts and the newer lap-shoulder belts, which are generally considered safer.
According to the representative, Montgomery County Public Schools will purchase 50 buses with seatbelts over the summer and plan to purchase more.