[Federal Register: October 26, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 206)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Page 57089-57091]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr26oc98-19]


DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
49 CFR Part 571
[Docket Number NHTSA-98-4573]
School Bus Research Plan
AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.
ACTION: Request for comments.


SUMMARY: On August 7, 1998, NHTSA sent to Congress a report titled, "School Bus Safety: Safe Passage for America's Children." The report outlined NHTSA's current and future actions on school bus safety. A comprehensive research plan for the next generation of occupant protection in school buses was announced. This notice seeks comments and information pertinent to the execution of that plan. A copy of this report is available on NHTSA's web site at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/buses/schbus/schbussafe.html.

Every year, approximately 440,000 public school buses travel about 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children to and from school and school-related activities. The school bus occupant fatality rate of 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is much lower than the rates for passenger cars (1.5 per 100 million VMT) or light trucks and vans (1.3 per 100 million VMT). School bus transportation is one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States. On average, nine school bus occupants per year die in school bus crashes. While each of these fatalities is tragic, the numbers of fatalities among school bus occupants are extremely small when compared to those in other types of motor vehicles. For example, in 1997, five passenger occupants in a school bus body-type of vehicle died in a crash. During the same year, 4,811 children between the ages of 5 and 18 died in all other types of motor vehicles.

This excellent safety record of school buses notwithstanding, NHTSA believes that school transportation should be held to the highest levels of safety, since such transportation involves the Nation's most precious cargo--children who represent our future.

Even though compartmentalization has proven to be an excellent concept for injury mitigation, the agency has initiated an extensive research program to develop the next generation occupant protection system. The objective of NHTSA's Research Plan is to scientifically determine the real-world effectiveness of current Federal requirements for school bus occupant crash protection, evaluate alternative occupant crash protection systems in controlled laboratory tests that represent the types of real-world school bus crashes, and based on the findings, propose the next generation of occupant protection requirements for school buses. Each system studied must meet all of the following criteria: is likely to reduce the total number of injuries or fatalities associated with school bus crashes, provides protection to the whole range of occupants who are transported in schools buses, is technologically feasible, is reasonable in cost, and does not substantially reduce the occupant capacity of school buses or substantially inhibit emergency evacuation.

DATES: Comments must be received by December 28, 1998.

All written comments should refer to the docket number and notice number in the heading of this notice and be submitted, preferably 10 copies, to: DOT Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room PL-01, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590.

The docket is open to the public from 10:00 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Linda McCray, Office of Vehicle Safety
Research, NRD-11, NHTSA, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590
(telephone 202-366-6375, Fax: 202-366-7237).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The primary means of occupant protection for large school buses is a concept known as compartmentalization--strong, well padded, well anchored, high backed, closely spaced seats. Even though compartmentalization has proven to be an excellent concept for injury mitigation, the agency has initiated a research program to develop the next generation of occupant protection for school bus passengers. This comprehensive program will evaluate alternative occupant crash protection systems in controlled laboratory tests that represent the types of real world school bus crashes that produce injuries to passengers. A key component of this program will necessarily be a thorough search for better crash data. Existing state and school systems records will be searched for documentation on school bus crashes involving fatalities/injuries and specific crashes in which lap belts were used. Those crash data will be vital to defining the test conditions that best simulate the most injurious school bus crashes. Alternative systems will be tested and evaluated for their ability to protect the full range of sizes of school bus occupants. The systems tested must not significantly reduce the occupant capacity of the bus or significantly restrict emergency egress. If it is determined that all these criteria can be met, the agency will consider upgrading its occupant protection standards.

School Bus Research Plan

Research will be conducted in three (3) phases: Phase I--Problem Definition, Phase II--Test Procedure Development, and Phase III--Testing and Validation.

Phase I: Problem Definition will consist of analyzing NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), General Estimates System (GES) and National Automotive Sampling System databases for school bus crashes and corresponding injuries, a literature search for existing school bus related research (listed above), identification of safety systems that are currently available or will be in near term, and in-depth special investigations of existing state and school system records on bus crashes involving fatalities/injuries and specific crashes in which occupants wore lap belts. The agency will conduct a detailed review of crash data to upgrade existing data to better define crashes that produce injury to occupants. The answers to the following items will be of help to the agency in determining its future course of action with respect to school buses.

  1. While the agency believes that it is aware of most of the research that evaluates the occupant protection in school buses, the agency is interested in research reports that documents the testing of safety devices or systems in modern school buses.
  2. The agency is interested in investigating crashes that have occurred in large school buses, particularly those crashes that have resulted in injuries, and is asking for assistance in locating detailed information on these school bus crashes.
  3. The agency is also interested in investigating crashes that have occurred in large and small school buses equipped with lap belts and is asking for assistance in locating detailed information on these school bus crashes.

Phase II: Test Procedure Development will consist of developing test conditions that best simulate the types of school bus crashes that lead to serious injuries, as identified through Phase I research. Crash "pulses" will be developed by conducting full scale school bus crash testing at various impact angles. Using the derived crash pulses, a sled test procedure (crash simulation) will be developed and validated. If necessary, new occupant protection countermeasures will be designed and developed, either by modifying existing systems and components, or developing new systems. Preliminary tests to verify the systems will be conducted prior to final sled testing. A sled test matrix to evaluate the new or altered occupant protection systems will be developed.

In order to ensure that any safety enhancements/devices tested provide protection to the whole range of sizes of people that school buses transport, the agency is planning to use available anthropometric test dummies (ATDs) that represent the six-year-old child, the 5th percentile female and the 50th percentile male.

Safety improvements currently under consideration for testing are lap belts, lap/torso belts, lap bars, bus side wall padding and armrests.

  1. Since lap belts have been required in small school buses for some time now, the agency is also interested in obtaining information on whether there have been any lap belt-caused injuries to occupants of small school buses.

  2. The agency is concerned that widening of a school bus seat to allow for the placement of armrests will require that the school bus body be made wider in order to maintain the same capacity. Should this be a serious concern, it is important for the agency to know the extent to which the widening of the school bus seat would cause the capacity to be reduced or the widening of school bus body would cause maneuverability problems.

The agency is also interested in obtaining information on other devices/systems that may improve occupant protection in school bus crashes. Please note, NHTSA does not have legal authority to provide appropriated funds for the private development of commercial products.

Suggestions should be accompanied by a statement of the rationale for the suggested device/system and the expected consequences that such devices/systems will have on school bus transportation.

Suggestions should address at least the following considerations:

Administrative/compliance burdens,

Cost effectiveness,

Costs of the existing regulation and the proposed changes to consumers,

Costs of testing or certification to regulated parties,

Effects on safety,

Effects on small businesses,

Enforceability of the standard, and

Whether the suggestion reflects a "common sense" approach to solving the problem

Statements should be as specific as possible and provide the best available supporting information. Statements also should specify whether any change recommended in the regulatory process would require a legislative change in NHTSA's authority.

Phase III: Testing and Validation will consist of testing the various occupant protection safety systems developed or identified. The types of tests to be conducted will be both static and dynamic. Test results will be analyzed and a final report published.

In order to provide for a more controlled environment the agency is planning to evaluate each device/system by conducting crash simulations (sled tests).

Submission of Comments

NHTSA invites written comments from all interested parties. It is requested but not required that 10 copies be submitted.

If a commenter wishes to submit certain information under a claim of confidentiality, three copies of the complete submission, including purportedly confidential business information, should be submitted to the Chief Counsel, NHTSA, Room 5219, at the street address given above, and copies from which the purportedly confidential information has been deleted should be submitted to the Docket Section. A request for confidentiality should be accompanied by a cover letter setting forth the information specified in the agency's confidential business information regulation (49 CFR part 512.)

All comments received before the close of business on the comment closing date indicated above will be considered. Comments will be available for inspection in the docket.

After the closing date, NHTSA will continue to file relevant information in the docket as it becomes available. It is therefore recommended that interested persons continue to examine the docket for new material.

Authority: 49 U.S.C. 322, 30111, 30115, 30117, and 30166; delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.50.

Issued: October 20, 1998.
L. Robert Shelton,
Associate Administrator for Safety Performance Standards.
[FR Doc. 98-28569 Filed 10-23-98; 8:45 am]
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