You may want to prepare for a safety directive underway in one state that could soon cascade across the country. A new regulation in Indiana Administrative Code enhances the safety of the youngest children who ride school buses. The reason for the regulation, the increased safety its implementation will provide, and what restraints are recommended, are worth diving into.
The new rule went into effect January 1, 2018, and states that any pre-K child riding in a school bus in Indiana must be secured in a proper age, weight, and size FMVSS 213 compliant child restraint system. When you think about all the children in public school or private childcare programs, this literally affects thousands of young children. This directive does not, however, apply to children attending kindergarten, elementary, middle, or high school.
Compartmentalization was never designed and doesn’t work to protect pre-K children on the bus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found children weighing less than 50 pounds need more protection than compartmentalization provides. Why? Because their bodies have not physically developed enough to handle the impact to the seat in front of them without causing internal injuries.
For compartmentalization to be most effective, a child also needs to be sitting in proper position – upright and forward-facing. For most pre-K children, this is an unrealistic expectation. They tend to lay down on the seat, sit sideways, or in some cases, move around. CSRS, Child Safety Restraint Systems, are the solution to better protect these passengers, and there are several options available.
The first, school bus specific add-on child restraint systems, are the most popular. Like the SafeGuard STAR or SuperSTAR, they attach to the bus seat using straps called the cam wrap, which wraps over the seat back and sometimes under the seat cushion. These restraints are lightweight, portable, and take up little space. Some are even available for children weighing up to 90 pounds and may offer options for additional upper body support needed for some students.
Safety vests and safety harnesses are other common options for school buses. These restraints also attach to the school bus seat by means of a cam wrap. They are frequently used for special needs applications in school buses and even passenger cars.
Cam wraps negatively affect the performance of compartmentalization. That’s why NHTSA requires a label that states the seat behind the cam wrap must either be unoccupied or used only by a passenger who is also restrained by a CSRS or seat belt.
Another choice is the integrated child seat, or built-in child restraint. This restraint is built into the seat with a 5-point harness. They are easy to use, and no installation is needed. A flap covering the child restraint folds down to create the seating surface. Just as with regular car seats, these can be adjusted for snugness, height, and do have weight and size limitations.
The last option is conventional car seats, but they are limited by the fact that they must be installed using a seat belt or LATCH and may be difficult to install on a school bus seat. However, when transporting infants, the rear-facing infant passenger car seat is the only option available.
While your state may not have a law mandating the use of CSRS yet, knowing about Indiana’s efforts to better protect their youngest school bus riders can help your district do the same.