NTSB repeats call for school bus seat belts after investigation into fatal Tennessee crash 

The investigation into a Tennessee school bus crash last year resulted in the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reminding student transporters and states to increase the use of lap/shoulder seat belts and onboard video cameras for training.

NTSB project manager Meg Sweeney presented the findings related to the Oct. 27, 2021 crash in Decatur, Tennessee, and the resulting recommendations to state governors during the last day of the National Association of State Directors of School Transportation Services (NASDPTS) Annual Conference. The crash involved a service utility truck and a school bus with 33 students on board. Neither vehicle was speeding, and roads were dry.

bus crash
Aerial view of the final resting positions of the service truck and school bus involved in the fatal Oct. 27, 2020, crash. (Photo credit: Tennessee Highway Patrol)

Sweeney said the truck was headed north at 52 mph along a two-lane road separated by a double yellow line when its right wheels drifted off the roadway. The driver overcorrected and the truck crossed the centerline, ending up horizontally across the opposite lane. The approaching school bus driver, traveling southbound, had only two seconds to react and was unable to apply the brakes before slamming into the side of the utility truck at a speed of about 46 mph.

The school bus driver, Lisa Dillard, 53, and a student sitting behind the driver, 7-year-old Addicyn Grace Medley, were fatally injured. The school bus driver was wearing a seat belt. Dillard and Medley were trapped inside the school bus and had to be extricated by emergency personnel.

NTSB findings

Four students in the first three rows were also seriously injured, three of whom were said to be “out of position,” the NTSB report stated. There were no seat belts or lap/shoulder belts in the school bus passenger area.

The investigation determined that the truck driver, Terry Trammell, 56, had no medical conditions that contributed to the crash, and there were no signs of alcohol or cell phone use. Trammel also had proper experience and training as a truck driver. The contributing factor, according to NTSB investigators, was that he was distracted by looking in his sideview mirror at a sheriff’s deputy who was following the truck.

Trammell was treated at the scene for minor injuries. He also reportedly helped evacuate passengers from the school bus.

Road conditions complicated the scene. Sweeney noted that the right lane had a very narrow shoulder, and the downward slope is classified as “non-recoverable” if a motorist were to travel off the roadway . The road was also already identified by the state as in need of repair. Those repairs were completed within about a year of the crash.

Safety recommendations

The NTSB is recommending that all newly manufactured commercial motor vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings above 10,000 pounds be equipped with lane departure prevention systems. Sweeney added that lane departure warning systems would have probably not prevented the crash.

Additionally, the NTSB recommends that the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NASDPTS) and the National School Transportation Association inform their members “of the need to periodically review onboard video event recorder information to ensure that students engage in safe transportation behaviors on school buses, including seating properly and wearing seat belts when available, and that members use this information to improve the bus safety training provided to drivers, students, and parents.”

Sweeney said that the recommendation does not call for the review of all school bus videos or pulling footage on a daily or even weekly basis. Instead, she suggested that student transporters review video once a month to observe any onboard behaviors by drivers or students that can be used to enhance training.

Repeats calls for seat belts

In reiterating its call for the use of lap/shoulder seat belts in school buses, NTSB is sending a letter on the importance of lap/shoulder seat belts to all state governors as well as highway safety representatives and the national state transportation state directors.

The agency has previously stated that compartmentalization is “incomplete” and “does not protect passengers during lateral impacts with vehicles of a large mass, in rollovers and from ejection.” According to NTSB, an occupant crash protection system should be developed that would protect passengers in most crash scenarios.

In this case, seat belts would have kept students in their seats, facing forward, as 14 students were labeled as out of position. Sweeney noted that the effort for lap/shoulder belt adoption has some momentum, saying Iowa in 2019 became the latest state to require occupant restraint systems in school buses. While Tennessee did not enact such a requirement following the Decatur crash, Sweeney said the state did create a $3 million grant for school districts to purchase buses equipped with lap/shoulder seat belts.

Sweeney added that the effectiveness of automatic emergency braking was not considered. 

Reprinted with permission from School Transportation NewsRead the original post.


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