WASHINGTON (AP)-- A government safety panel recommended on Tuesday that school bus emergency doors with protruding metal latches be redesigned and bus seat cushions be secured with fail-safe latches to protect passengers in an accident.
The recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board were prompted by an investigation into a school bus accident in upstate New York that injured 51 students and their chaperones on Oct. 21, 1999.
Most of the students on the bus were wearing seat belts when the bus collided with a dump truck, but investigators could not determine from the accident data whether the children would have suffered more harm if they were not wearing seat belts, NTSB engineer Kristin Bolte said.
The federal government has required seat belts in passenger cars since 1968, but has never required them in any kind of bus. The thinking has been that with their size, height, padded seats and high seat backs, buses offer passengers a protective cocoon if there is a crash. The NTSB concluded a three-year study in 1999 on bus crashes and decided not to recommend seat belts.
No one was injured in the New York accident on the bus emergency side door, but crash investigators said if the chaperone sitting in the emergency exit seat had been thrust against the door's metal latches the impact could have been lethal. Instead, the chaperone was pushed against the seat in front of her.
The panel recommended either padding the levers on the emergency door or making them recessed to prevent injury.
The board, which makes safety recommendations but lacks the power to implement them, also said the latches for seat bottoms should be installed with fail-safe locking mechanisms to keep them in place during accidents.
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