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NHTSA 19-07

Contact: Brian Turmail

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tel.: (202)366-4570

Secretary Peters Catches Bus to School, Proposes New Safety Rules for School Buses

  RALEIGH, N.C.--U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters today buckled up and rode with children in a school bus toMorrisville Elementary School near Raleigh, where she announced a new federal proposal to make school buses safer by requiring higher seat backs and setting new seat belt standards for the nation’s 474,000 school buses.

“Our proposed rule would make children safer, put parents at ease and give communities a clearer picture of how to protect students,” Secretary Peters said.  “It’s never too late to learn, especially when it comes to protecting our children.”

Beginning one year after the rule goes into effect, all new school buses would be equipped with 24-inch seat backs.  This increase, up from the current 20 inches, will better protect child passengers by helping keep older kids and adults from being thrown over seats in a crash, hurting themselves and others, Secretary Peters said. 

“Even the smallest changes can make a big difference,” said Administrator Nicole Nason of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  “The higher seat backs will help provide children with even greater protection in the event of a crash.”

The proposal also requires all new small buses, which are more prone to roll-over than full-size buses, to be equipped with three-point belts within three years of the new rule taking effect, replacing the current lap-belts-only requirement, Secretary Peters said. 

For large buses, the proposed rule for the first time would provide federal standards for seat belts for school districts that make the decision to add them.  The Secretary said the federal government would allow school districts to use federal highway safety funds to cover the additional cost of equipping buses with seat belts to encourage greater use.

Secretary Peters rode on a bus with three-point seat belts to the WakeCounty school, which is one of the first in the country to equip some of its new buses with seat belts.  She also spoke with students in a second grade classroom about how to be safe while riding the bus to school.

The proposed new rule is based, in part, on information gathered during a public meeting on school bus safety that NHTSA held in July.  At that meeting, Secretary Peters challenged state and local government policymakers, school bus manufacturers, pupil transportation associations and consumer groups to help develop new ways to make school buses even safer. 

Secretary Peters noted school buses already are the safest form of motor vehicle transportation, with a fatality rate that is nearly six times lower than passenger vehicles.  On average, fewer than eight passengers die in school bus crashes every years, even though 474,000 school buses carry 25.1 million children more than 4.8 billion miles annually.

Public comments on the proposed new regulations will be accepted for 60 days. To view the proposal, go to: www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

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