School Bus Collision Summary, Canada 1989-1997: Background

The safe transportation of children to and from school has been of great concern to Transport Canada for many years. The introduction of a number of safety standards in 1982 resulted in many safety improvements such as the elimination of rigid, metal backed seats with hard grab handles. Currently, 37 safety standards apply to school buses and these are constantly being reviewed and amended as necessary. Some of the more important ones involve stop arm requirements, fire retardant materials for seats, fuel retention during a collision, emergency exits, ensuring that the joints made in the construction of the bus do not separate, mirrors, energy absorbing padded seats and padding for certain areas of the bus. The requirement for seat belts on school buses was proposed in 1978 but removed from the final regulation due to adverse comments.

In 1984, a test program to determine the effects of adding lap seat belts to school buses was undertaken. Three different sizes of school buses were towed into a rigid barrier at 48 km/h to simulate a severe frontal collision. There were six test dummies on board each bus, three with belts and three across the aisle without belts. The report [1], published in 1985, has been widely quoted. The major conclusion was: "The use of lap seat belts in any of the three sizes of recent model school bus which were tested may result in more severe head and neck injuries for a belted occupant than for an unbelted one, in a severe frontal collision."

Despite this conclusion, the possibility existed that seat belts, known to be highly effective in preventing death and injury to occupants of passenger cars, could be of benefit to school bus occupants. A sled test program was undertaken in 1986 to determine whether or not the potentially adverse effects of lap belts on head/neck injuries could be eliminated with the use of more heavily padded seats, by adding single or double shoulder belts or by facing the seats rearward. The only methods which appeared to increase the level of safety already provided were the use of combination lap and single shoulder belts, and the use of rearward facing seats. The use of lap-shoulder belts would require that strong supports be provided to accept the forces for the seat belt anchorages, particularly the upper anchorages. This would negate the effects of the soft, energy absorbing seats currently provided, and thus the rear facing option seemed to be the most practical solution.

In order to establish what types of operational problems might be encountered with the use of rear facing seats, a demonstration program was undertaken in the 1987-88 school year. Buses equipped with rear facing seats were used in a wide variety of locations across Canada. Only older children experienced any discomfort, indicating that the desire to face forward is learned. The few problems which were found could likely be eliminated by introducing the seats to younger children first, and following these students through the grades.



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