School children riding in the nation’s nearly 500,000 school buses should be protected by new safety improvements just approved by the federal government.
But buried in the new federal rules issued by NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, is language that has the potential to harm families if your child is ever injured in an accident involving a school bus.
First for the safety - Seat and shoulder belts will be required on small school buses under the newly issued NHTSA rules.
Seat backs must be raised on all school buses from 20 inches to 24 inches high preventing children from tumbling forward in a sudden stop.
Seats must also come equipped with safety latches that can be flipped up or removed without resorting to special tools.
That’s the good news aimed at preventing the up to 10,000 child injuries that occur each year involving school buses, and about 1,900 school bus crashes.
But there is 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.
Public Citizen, the consumer group, objects to the omission. President Joan Claybook says that without a mandate, there will be fewer orders for new buses, making production of a large enough volume of improved buses less likely.
And the new standards extend a blanket of immunity to the manufacturing industry that makes buses and component parts. The new rules are equated with federal pre-emption language that essentially limits lawsuits.
Claybrook, who was the administrator of NHTSA from 1977-81, says this is yet another regulation that seeks to immunize a manufacturer from liability for personal injury caused by faulty products.
“More than 60 times in recent years, the Bush administration and its appointees have issued a safety standard that asserts that manufacturers whose products comply with federal standards can’t be sued under state law for injuries related to those products. By inserting these pre-emption clauses into federal regulations, the administration is putting the interests of manufacturers above those of the public.”
Federal pre-emption isn’t just a class in law school.
David Vladeck, a Georgetown Law Professor tells IB News that it has huge implications for parents if their child is ever hurt in a school bus accident.
“Suppose your child going to school and the bus has an accident. The accident experts say it was defectively designed and did not include the available technology that might have prevented the injury.
“If the bus is built in accordance with standard, you and you alone would bear the loss of your child, or of medical expenses. You would not be able to sue the bus manufacturer. The approval of this design relieves manufacturers of any obligation to build a safer bus."
And Professor Vladeck says that the last minute rush of the Bush administration to push out these pre-emptive regulations is not a coincidence.
“I think they are hurrying to get out the door every last regulatory initiative to serve their constituency which is American business, not the American people.”
Lawsuit limits have been included in 51 rules issued in the last few years, many of them issued by NHTSA. They include roof crush standards, door locks, head restraints, crash protection among others. #