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Will tragic school bus crash result in new NTSB recommendations?

Back in February 2012, the state of New Jersey was rocked by a tragic motor vehicle accident between a dump truck and a school bus at a busy intersection that left one student dead and five others with serious personal injuries. The sheer horror of the auto wreck understandably left many parents with reservations about the general safety of school buses and government officials desperately searching for answers.

Interestingly, the National Transportation Safety Board convened just last week to discuss the findings of its investigators concerning the Chesterfield bus accident and to determine whether the agency's bus safety recommendations perhaps needed to be updated in light of these findings.

NTSB investigators informed the assembled board members that the presence of seat belts on the school bus, as otherwise mandated by New Jersey law, likely played a significant role in reducing the overall number of injuries and fatalities in the crash. However, they also indicated that the student who died in the wreck was probably not wearing her seat belt, and that those students who made the decision to wear their lap belts more than likely came into contact with the hard, unpadded surfaces of the school bus as their lap belts failed to keep their upper bodies completely secured.

The investigators also noted that the accident -- which occurred when a dump truck smashed into the rear left side of the school bus at speeds well above the posted 45 mile-per-hour speed limit -- may been avoided altogether had the bus driver not been suffering from fatigue brought on by his prescription medications.

Specifically, they found that the bus driver neglected to inform the chiropractor performing his medical exam for a commercial driver's license that he was currently taking several prescriptions that caused drowsiness. Had he done so, they argued, his application for a license may have been denied.

While the NTSB has not yet to formally update its school bus safety recommendations, Chairman Deborah Hersman indicated that it was all but inevitable in light of the testimony provided by investigators. Consequently, it wouldn't be shocking to see the agency recommending that future school buses be equipped with lap and shoulder belts, and calling for more stringent licensing standards for school bus operators.

Stay tuned for developments … 

Source: The Jersey Journal, "New school bus safety recommendations expected after Burlington County crash," July 23, 2013

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