Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has always been an advocate for safer roads and vehicles, the agency's leaders now seem more fervent about their cause than they have been in the past. The NHTSA, which has traditionally been tepid in its response to auto recall scandals, has recently shown itself willing to get tough with companies like Takata.
The agency's rhetoric also seems to be changing. The NHTSA's public comments are often very measured, even when it comes to pushing for common-sense safety initiatives. But this, too, may be changing. Recently, the NHTSA's new administrator, Mark Rosekind, stated unequivocally that the agency now believes that all school buses should be equipped with three-point seat belts for all passengers.
You may be asking: "Isn't this already legally required?" Unfortunately, the answer is: Not as much as you might think. California is one of just six states to require seat belts on school buses. Nearly all other states have chosen not to implement this crucial safety feature.
To be sure, students riding school buses (without seat belts) may already be better protected than those riding in smaller vehicles. A bus' large mass and the high positioning of passengers (relative to the road) tend to mitigate the effects of crash forces. But in a world where seat belts are already in widespread use and very cheap to install, why not mandate an extra level of protection for all bus riders?
Rosekind's recent comments may not bring about much change – at least not right away. But it is nonetheless refreshing to hear the NHTSA speaking with passion about a safety issue which should be a no-brainer.
Commenting on the agency's change of tone, Rosekind said: "NHTSA has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses. So let me clear up any ambiguity now. The position of the NHTSA is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about."