By not standardizing this safety device decades ago, seat belts installed on school buses were long considered a curiosity, novelty, deluxe, or custom safety device only rich school districts could afford. Had these safety devices been standard equipment they would have interested the mass production market and brought the resulting savings to school bus consumers nationwide.
In 2002 at the Greensboro, N.C., Annual Conference and Trade Show, Charlie Gauthier, executive director of NASDPTS (at that time) argued that the public strongly supports the addition of lap/shoulder belt systems in school buses. ”You can’t win this, folks,” he said. ”Put some clear glasses on and look at the information. Liability concerns need to be considered. If a child is killed on a school bus without a lap/shoulder belt system, the risk to the transportation provider is high. I would suggest you talk to your risk manager about that,” he said in a Dec. (2002) School Bus Fleet magazine story, ”State Directors Grapple With Tough National Issues.’
Regardless of industry and government agency delays, we are on the threshold of a new industry standard because of the increasing popularity for this safety device from parents and school districts no longer willing to wait on NHTSA to do what ought to have been done decades ago. School bus consumer popularity has effected interest from mass producers and bus manufacture’s offering a variety of options, version creativity, and approaching lower costs from increased production.
This is the most positive sign that the seat belt issue is ending. Our nation’s school bus industry is experiencing a déjà vu, reminiscent of the same popularity issue involving automobiles in the 1950’s.