School Bus Seatbelt Safety and Manufacturer Liability in Crashes: Accident and Wrongful Death Claims to Continue
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two drivers were injured Wednesday morning when two school buses collided in DeKalb County. A bus from Bright Beginnings Learning Center, traveling southbound, rear-ended a DeKalb County special needs bus en route to McNair High School.
While no children were harmed during this particular bus accident, the collision itself brings back to minds of auto accident attorneys the as of yet unresolved question regarding school bus seatbelt safety and the requirement of safety belts on large school buses. It's a question that causes concerns about accident and wrongful death claims as well.
In 2008, in a move designed to curb the approximate 10,000 child injuries that occurred each year as a result of school bus crashes, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration did require the installation of seat and shoulder belts on smaller buses. The new federal regulations also stipulated that seat backs be raised on all school buses from 20 inches to 24 inches high, preventing children from tumbling forward during sudden stops.
However, as a story from the Injury News Board pointed out, there was still a "huge gap left by the regulations. Seat belts are still not required on the large school buses. NHTSA has not resolved that question, but instead it sets standards for seat belts on the larger buses in which most children ride."
The choice by the NHTSA to allow this question to go largely unresolved seems to be starkly incongruous, especially in light of the fact that bus drivers themselves are required to wear restraints when transporting students. Furthermore, the standards set, while providing guidelines, are nothing more than mere suggestions that protect bus manufacturers against liability for accidents. Consumer group, Public Citizen, sees the omission as extending a "blanket of immunity to the manufacturing industry," writes reporter Jane Akre.