In surprise move, NHTSA endorses seat belts on school buses

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WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) – After years of debate on the issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now endorsing seat belts on school buses.

“One of the things that they wanted to accomplish with this new rule-making was to be definitive about where they stood with three-point lap and shoulder belts,” said Tom Anthony, the President of Westfield-based IMMI, one of the largest seat belt manufacturers in the world.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind now says all children should have three-point seat belts.

Only six states require the belts, and some districts in Indiana are already using them.

“Seat belts reduce fatalities and injuries by 45 percent,” said Larry Gray, the CEO of IMMI. “It’s a statistic that the whole industry uses and it’s a proven statistic, so the absence of those (three-point seatbelts) we think is a problem.”

“The only vehicle other than a motorcycle that rolls by at highway speeds (without seat belts) has our kids in it,” said Anthony.

IMMI has their seat belts on six Westfield school buses. Right now, they’re just part of a pilot program, but with new direction from NHTSA, they’re banking on them becoming mandatory on all school buses across the country.

“I think a little bit of clarity here from NHTSA is going to accomplish a lot, just to understand where they stand on the issue,” said Anthony.

Given what could happen without the seat belts, many parents are in favor.

“I’ve seen the alternative of crashes and I think that having seat belts would be a lot safer for our students,” said Sarah Carsey, a mother in Westfield parent.

But the cost is enormous.

“To put seat belts on all of our fleet — we have 70-something buses — would be a little over $1 million,” said Nick Verhoff, the director of Business and Operations for the Westfield-Washington School District.

To install the belts on Westfield’s buses, IMMI helped pay for the labor, while Westfield paid for the parts.

Seat belts on a new bus would cost between $7,000 and $10,000 total. But to retrofit an older bus the cost is between $12,000 and $15,000.

Verhoff said they would like to outfit a couple buses a year.

The NHTSA administrator didn’t give a time frame for when, or even if, the seat belts would be required.

He did say the administration will look at safety data from the districts using seat belts.

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