[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 165 (Thursday, August 25, 2011)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 53102-53112]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-21596]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

49 CFR Part 571

[Docket No. NHTSA-2011-0131]


Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Denial of Petition for 
Rulemaking; School Buses

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 
Department of Transportation.

ACTION: Denial of petition for rulemaking.

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SUMMARY: This document denies a petition for rulemaking from the Center 
for Auto Safety (CAS) and 21 others asking that NHTSA mandate the 
installation of three-point seat belts (lap/shoulder belts) for all 
seating positions on all school buses. We are denying the petition 
because we have not found a safety problem supporting a Federal 
requirement for lap/shoulder belts on large school buses, which are 
already very safe. The decision to install seat belts on school buses 
should be left to State and local jurisdictions, which can weigh the 
need for, benefits and consequences of installing belts on large school 
buses and best decide whether their particular pupil transportation 
programs merit installation of the devices.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For legal issues: Ms. Deirdre Fujita, 
Office of the Chief Counsel, NCC-112, phone (202) 366-2992. For non-
legal issues: Ms. Shashi Kuppa, Office of Crashworthiness Standards, 
NVS-113, phone (202) 366-3827. You can reach both of these officials at 
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey 
Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Overview

    This document denies a petition for rulemaking from the CAS and 
others \1\ (hereinafter referred to as the ``CAS petition'') asking 
NHTSA to mandate the installation of three-point seat belts (lap/
shoulder belt) for all seating positions on large school buses.\2\
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    \1\ The petition, dated March 9, 2010 on CAS letterhead, 
described itself as from the following groups and individuals in 
addition to the CAS: the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, 
Public Citizen, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Consumers 
Union, KidsandCars.org, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 
Consumer Federation of America, SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., the Trauma 
Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American 
Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Orthopaedic Trauma 
Association, 2safeschools.org, Safe Ride News, the Advocacy 
Institute for Children, Belt Up School Kids, the Coalition for Child 
Safety, Nancy Bauder, Lynn Brown/Rhea Vogel, Ruth Spaulding, and 
Norm Cherkis.
    \2\ ``School bus'' is defined in 49 CFR 571.3 as a bus that is 
sold, or introduced in interstate commerce, for purposes that 
include carrying students to and from school or related events, but 
does not include a bus designed and sold for operation as a common 
carrier in urban transportation. A ``bus'' is a motor vehicle, 
except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons. In 
this document, when we refer to ``large'' school buses, we refer to 
school buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 
4,536 kilograms (kg) (10,000 pounds (lb)). These large school buses 
may transport as many as 90 students. ``Small'' school buses are 
school buses with a GVWR of 4,536 kg (10,000 lb) or less. Generally, 
these small school buses seat 15 persons or fewer, or have one or 
two wheelchair seating positions.
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    Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 222, ``School bus 
passenger seating and crash protection,'' requires lap/shoulder belts 
for all seating positions on small school buses, and requires that 
passengers on large school buses be protected through a concept called 
``compartmentalization.'' \3\ The deceleration experienced by small 
school buses necessitates installation of the belts for adequate 
occupant crash protection. For large school buses, we have determined 
there is not a safety problem warranting national action to require the 
addition of lap/shoulder belts to these vehicles. Large school buses 
are very safe due to their greater weight and higher seating height 
than most other vehicles, high visibility to motorists, and occupant 
protection through compartmentalization. The vehicles have compiled an 
excellent safety record.
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    \3\ Compartmentalization is a protective envelope formed of 
strong, closely spaced seats that have energy absorbing seat backs 
so that passengers are cushioned and contained by the seat in front 
in the event of a school bus crash. Compartmentalization is 
described more fully in the next section of this denial notice.
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    In considering the issue of seat belts for large school buses, 
NHTSA has been mindful that a requirement for seat belts could affect 
funding for school transportation. A Federal requirement for seat belts 
on large school buses will increase the cost to purchase and operate 
the vehicles, which would impact school budgets. Increased costs to 
purchase and operate large school buses could reduce the availability 
of school bus service overall, and reduce school bus ridership. The 
reduced ridership may result in more students finding alternative, less 
safe means of getting to or from school or related events, such as 
riding in private vehicles--often with a teenage driver. When 
alternative means are used, the risk of traffic-related injury or 
fatality to children is greater than when a large school bus is used.
    As such, there are many factors to be weighed in deciding whether 
seat belts should be installed on large school buses. Throughout the 
past 34 years that compartmentalization and the school bus safety 
standards have been in effect, the agency has openly and continuously 
considered the merits of a seat belt requirement for large school 
buses. (See, e.g., responses to petitions to require seat belt 
anchorages and seat belt assemblies, 41 FR 28506 (July 12, 1976) and 48 
FR 47032 (October 17, 1983); response to petition for rulemaking to 
prohibit the installation of lap belts on large school buses, 71 FR 
40057 (July 14, 2006).)
    Most recently, NHTSA discussed the issue of requiring seat belts on 
large school buses at length in a rulemaking proceeding completed in 
2010 (Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 2127-AK09) (NPRM upgrading 
school bus passenger crash protection, 72 FR 65509 (November 21, 2007); 
final rule, 73 FR 62744 (October 21, 2008)); (RIN 2127-AK49) response 
to petitions for reconsideration, 75 FR 66686 (October 29, 2010)). 
NHTSA undertook the rulemaking to raise the minimum seat back height on 
school bus passenger seats, require small school buses to have lap/
shoulder belts at each passenger seating position (the small buses were 
previously required to provide at least lap belts \4\), and incorporate 
test procedures to test lap/shoulder belts in small school buses and 
voluntarily-installed lap/shoulder belts in large school buses. The 
test procedures ensure both the strength of the seat belt systems and 
the compatibility of the

[[Page 53103]]

seat belt systems with compartmentalization.
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    \4\ Small school buses are different from large ones in that 
they are built on the same chassis and frame as a light truck and 
thereby have similar crash characteristics of a light truck. The 
upgraded seat belt requirements (from lap belts to lap/shoulder 
belts) on these vehicles reflects the similar upgrade to lap/
shoulder belts in other passenger vehicles.
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    In that rulemaking, the agency presented up-to-date information and 
discussed the reasoning behind the agency's decision not to propose to 
require seat belts in large school buses. The NPRM and final rule 
preambles presented data and findings from the following studies of the 
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), National Academy of 
Sciences (NAS), and NHTSA (in chronological order):

Studies

     NTSB, 1987 
    In 1987, the NTSB reported on its investigation of forty-three 
post-standard school bus crashes.\5\ The NTSB concluded that most 
fatalities and injuries in school bus crashes occurred because the 
occupant seating positions were directly in line with the crash forces, 
and that seat belts would not have prevented those injuries and 
fatalities. (NTSB/SS-87/01, Safety Study, Crashworthiness of Large 
Post-standard School Buses, March 1987, National Transportation Safety 
Board.)
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    \5\ FMVSS No. 222 became effective on April 1, 1977.
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     NAS, 1989 
    A 1989 NAS study concluded that the overall potential benefits of 
requiring seat belts on large school buses were insufficient to justify 
a Federal mandate for installation. The NAS also stated that funds used 
to purchase and maintain seat belts might be better spent on other 
school bus safety programs with the potential to save more lives and 
reduce more injuries. (Special Report 222, Improving School Bus Safety, 
National Academy of Sciences, Transportation Research Board, 
Washington, DC 1989).
     NTSB, 1999 
    In 1999, the NTSB reported on six school bus crashes it 
investigated in which passenger fatalities or serious injuries occurred 
away from the area of vehicle impact. The NTSB found 
compartmentalization to be an effective means of protecting passengers 
in school bus crashes. However, because many of those passengers 
injured in the six crashes were believed to have been thrown from their 
compartments, the NTSB believed other means of occupant protection 
should be examined. (NTSB/SIR-99/04, Highway Safety Report, Bus 
Crashworthiness Issues, September 1999, National Transportation Safety 
Board).
     NAS, 2002 
    In 2002, the NAS published a study that analyzed the safety of 
various transportation modes used by school children to get to and from 
school and school-related activities. The NAS found that among 815 
school-age children killed in motor vehicle crashes during normal 
school travel hours each year, less than 0.6 percent are passengers in 
school buses, 1.8 percent are children outside the bus near the 
loading/unloading zone, 22 percent are students walking/bicycling, and 
75 percent are in crashes involving passenger vehicles, especially 
those with teen drivers. The report stated that changes in any one 
characteristic of school travel can lead to dramatic changes in the 
overall risk to the student population. Thus, the NAS concluded, it is 
important for school transportation decisions to take into account all 
potential aspects of any changes in school transportation. (Special 
Report 269, ``The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National 
Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment,'' 
Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, 2002.)
     NHTSA, 2002 
    In 2002, NHTSA issued a report to Congress detailing school bus 
occupant safety and analyzing options for improvement. NHTSA concluded 
that compartmentalization effectively lowered injury measures by 
distributing crash forces with the padded seating surface. Lap belts 
showed little to no benefit in reducing serious/fatal injuries. The 
agency determined that properly used lap/shoulder belts have the 
potential to be effective in reducing fatalities and injuries for not 
only frontal collisions, but also rollover crashes where seat belt 
systems are particularly effective in reducing ejection. However, the 
addition of lap/shoulder belts on buses would increase capital costs 
and reduce seating capacity on the buses. (``Report to Congress, School 
Bus Safety: Crashworthiness Research, April 2002,'' http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Multimedia/PDFs/Crashworthiness/SchoolBus/SBReportFINAL.pdf.)
    In addition, the agency considered the public discussions at a July 
11, 2007 roundtable meeting with State and local government 
policymakers, school bus and seat manufacturers, pupil transportation 
associations, and consumer groups. (Notice of public meeting, 72 FR 
30739, June 4, 2007, Docket NHTSA-2007-28103.)
    The agency explained in the NPRM and final rule preambles of the 
documents comprising RIN 2127-AK09 that, after considering all 
available information, NHTSA was not able to conclude that requiring 
seat belts on large school buses would protect passengers against an 
unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident. NHTSA continued: 
``Whether the same conclusion can be made by a State or local 
jurisdiction is a matter for local decision-makers and we encourage 
them to make the decisions most appropriate for their individual needs 
to most safely transport their students to and from school.'' Id. 73 FR 
at 62745.
    Following publication of the final rule, CAS et al. submitted the 
petition for rulemaking discussed today to require lap/shoulder belts 
on large school buses. The petition refers to a ``Highway Accident 
Brief'' published November 12, 2009 by the NTSB.
    Also following publication of the final rule, the State of Alabama 
completed a comprehensive study to evaluate the merits of having lap/
shoulder belts on newly purchased large school buses in Alabama. Among 
other factors, the State evaluated the rate of seat belt use, the 
effects on bus discipline, the attitudes of other stakeholders, the 
loss of capacity attributable to seat belts, and cost effectiveness of 
requiring lap/shoulder seat belts. The study found that, for Alabama, 
the cost and consequences of ordering the seat belts on large school 
buses would exceed the benefit. The authors concluded that if funding 
is to be spent on school bus safety, more lives could be saved in 
Alabama by investing in enhanced safety measures in loading/unloading 
zones.
    Additionally, following publication of the final rule, NHTSA 
completed an estimate of possible impacts that reduced school bus 
ridership might have on traffic-related injury or fatality. This 
analysis is discussed later in this document. The agency undertook the 
analysis to understand, in a more comprehensive manner, the possible 
consequences of a national requirement for seat belts on large school 
buses. If a national requirement were imposed, how could such a 
requirement affect the availability of school bus service? How might 
reduced availability of school bus service impact pupil transportation 
safety? The analysis is illustrative in nature and is based on 
established economic methodologies. Under the described conditions, the 
agency estimates that the increased risk from students finding 
alternative, less safe means of getting to and from school could result 
in an increase of 10 to 19 school transportation fatalities annually.
    After carefully considering the petition for rulemaking and all the 
above information, the agency is denying the petition.
    The agency notes that part of the response repeats some discussion 
from the November 21, 2007 NPRM and the October 21, 2008 final rule 
comprising

[[Page 53104]]

RIN 2127-AK09, supra. The discussion is set forth again here because it 
is relevant, particularly because a large part of the petitioners' 
``facts which it is claimed establish that an order is necessary'' \6\ 
are not new, having been previously raised to the agency and to which 
NHTSA has responded. The agency is repeating some of the discussion set 
forth in the November 21, 2007 NPRM and the October 21, 2008 final rule 
for completeness, and to provide a context for discussion of the 
petition.
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    \6\ 49 CFR 552.4(c), Requirements for petition for rulemaking.
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Discussion

Introduction

    School buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in the 
United States. Every year, approximately 485,500 school buses travel 
approximately 4.2 billion miles to transport 23 million children to and 
from school and school-related activities.\7\ The school bus occupant 
fatality rate of 0.23 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 
(VMT) is nearly 6 times lower than the rates for passenger cars (1.29 
per 100 million VMT \8\). The safety of current school buses was 
confirmed by NAS in 2002.\9\
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    \7\ Based on the 2006-07 school year, ``School Bus Fleet, 2009 
Fact Book,'' page 30.
    \8\ 2008 Traffic Safety Facts FARS/GES Annual Report, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811170.pdf.
    \9\ National Academy of Sciences, Special Report 269: The 
Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance 
for Local Community Risk Assessment, National Research Council, 
Washington, DC, September 2002.
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    The agency estimates that an average of 19 school-age children die 
in school bus-related traffic crashes \10\ each year: 5 are occupants 
of school buses and 14 are pedestrians near the loading/unloading zone 
of the school bus.\11\ These numbers do not include school-age children 
who are killed going to or from school using means other than by school 
buses.
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    \10\ A school bus-related crash is a crash which involves, 
either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle (e.g., a 
yellow school bus), or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus 
(e.g. a transit bus functioning as a school bus), transporting 
children to or from school or school-related activities.
    \11\ School Transportation-Related Crashes, Traffic Safety Facts 
2008 Data, DOT HS 811 165.
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    The CAS petition cited an American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) 
analysis of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). 
The AAP analysis indicated that there are 17,000 school bus-related 
nonfatal injuries annually, among which 7,200 were crash related, 4,060 
were during boarding/alighting, 1,160 were slips/fall related, 860 were 
non-crash related, and 3,750 were of other/unknown cause. Among those 
injured in this study, 97 percent were treated and released from the 
hospital. Most of these injuries were of minor severity (strains, 
sprains, and bruises).
    We agree with the petitioners that school bus crashes are an 
important public health priority. Due to regulation in this area and 
public interest in the safety of school buses, school buses are very 
safe vehicles. The Motor Vehicle and School Bus Safety Amendments of 
1974, which amended the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act 
(Vehicle Safety Act), directed NHTSA to issue motor vehicle safety 
standards applicable to school buses and school bus equipment. In 
response to this legislation, NHTSA revised several of its safety 
standards to improve existing requirements for school buses, extended 
ones for other vehicle classes to those buses, and issued new safety 
standards exclusively for school buses. FMVSS No. 222 was promulgated 
to improve protection to school bus passengers during crashes and 
sudden driving maneuvers.
    Effective since 1977, FMVSS No. 222 contains occupant protection 
requirements for school bus seating positions and restraining barriers. 
Its requirements for school buses with GVWRs of 4,536 kilogram (kg) 
(10,000 pound (lb)) or less differ from those set for school buses with 
GVWRs greater than 4,536 kg (10,000 lb), because the ``crash pulse,'' 
or deceleration, experienced by the small school buses is more severe 
than that of the large buses in similar collisions. For the small 
school buses, the standard includes requirements that all seating 
positions must be equipped with properly installed seat belts for 
passengers. NHTSA decided that seat belts were necessary on small 
school buses to provide adequate crash protection for the occupants.
    For large school buses, FMVSS No. 222 relies on requirements for 
``compartmentalization'' to provide passenger crash protection. 
Investigations of school bus crashes prior to issuance of FMVSS No. 222 
found the school bus seat was a significant factor in causing injury. 
NHTSA found that the seat failed the passengers in three principal 
respects: By being too weak, too low, and too hostile (39 FR 27584; 
July 30, 1974). In response to this finding, NHTSA developed a set of 
requirements which comprise the compartmentalization system.
    Compartmentalization ensures that passengers are cushioned and 
contained by the seats in the event of a school bus crash by requiring 
school bus seats to be positioned in a manner that provides a compact, 
protected area surrounding each seat. If a seat is not 
compartmentalized by a seat back in front of it, compartmentalization 
must be provided by a padded and protective restraining barrier. The 
seats and restraining barriers must be strong enough to maintain their 
integrity in a crash yet flexible enough to be capable of deflecting in 
a manner which absorbs the energy of the occupant. They must meet 
specified height requirements and be constructed, by use of substantial 
padding or other means, so that they provide protection when they are 
impacted by the head and legs of a passenger. Compartmentalization 
minimizes the hostility of the crash environment and limits the range 
of movement of an occupant. The compartmentalization approach ensures 
that high levels of crash protection are provided to each passenger 
independent of any action on the part of the occupant to buckle up.
    Nonetheless, throughout the past 34 years that compartmentalization 
and the school bus safety standards have been in effect, the agency has 
openly and continuously considered the consequences, pros and cons, of 
a seat belt requirement for large school buses. The most recent 
detailed discussion of the issue was in NHTSA's October 21, 2008 final 
rule.

October 21, 2008 Final Rule

    On October 21, 2008, the agency issued a final rule, supra, 
upgrading the passenger protection requirements for school buses. The 
NPRM preceding the final rule discussed the agency's considerations 
when we drafted the NPRM as to whether to propose requiring lap/
shoulder belts in large school buses. We considered whether Federal 
enhancements on an already very safe vehicle were reasonable and 
appropriate, given the low safety need \12\ and especially when the 
cost of installing and maintaining lap/shoulder belts on the buses 
could impact the ability of transportation providers to transport 
children to or from school or spend funds in other areas affecting 
pupil safety. After considering that large school buses were already 
very safe, and

[[Page 53105]]

after considering the possibility that seat belts on large school buses 
could affect school bus service and ridership, NHTSA decided not to 
propose to require lap/shoulder belts on large school buses.
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    \12\ As indicated earlier, among 19 school-age child fatalities 
in school transportation-related crashes each year, 5 are passengers 
of school buses while 14 are killed outside the school bus at or 
near the loading/unloading zone, by motorists passing the bus or by 
the school bus itself. Children inside the bus are typically killed 
in crashes when they are in the direct zone of intrusion of the 
impacting vehicle or object, in such circumstances seat belts will 
not be effective in preventing the fatality.
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    The agency estimated the benefit that seat belts in large school 
buses may offer in frontal, side, and rollover crashes. For frontal 
crashes, we estimated the benefits of seat belts by using the sled test 
data obtained from NHTSA's 2002 school bus safety study. For estimating 
the incremental benefits of seat belts in rollover and side crashes, 
the agency used the effectiveness estimates of 74 percent for rollover 
crashes and 21 percent for side crashes attributed to seat belts in 
passenger cars.\13\ We estimated that lap/shoulder seat belts would 
save about 2 lives per year and prevent about 1,900 crash injuries, of 
which 97 percent are of minor/moderate severity (mainly cuts and 
bruises), assuming every child wore them correctly on every trip.
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    \13\ The benefits analysis is explained in the Final Regulatory 
Evaluation (FRE), Final Rule to Upgrade School Bus Passenger Crash 
Protection in FMVSS Nos. 207, 208, 210, and 222, Docket No. NHTSA-
2008-0163-0002, http://www.regulations.gov. We used the passenger 
car effectiveness estimates because real-world data on the 
effectiveness of seat belts on buses is not available. Data are 
available on the effectiveness of seat belts on passenger cars and 
light trucks. We used the passenger car effectiveness estimates to 
calculate the effectiveness of seat belts in school bus side impact 
and rollover events because the passenger car effectiveness is 
closer to what we expect for school buses. The light truck 
effectiveness estimates are highly influenced by ejections, which 
are not common in large school buses.
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    The agency estimated that the incremental cost of installing lap/
shoulder belts on a new 45-inch school bus seat to be $467-$599 and 
that on a 30-inch seat to be $375-$487. The incremental cost of newer 
seat designs that minimize any loss in seating capacity due to seat 
belts was estimated to be within these cost ranges. Assuming that an 
average large school bus has 11 rows of seats with 2 seats per row, we 
estimated the incremental cost of installing lap/shoulder belts in 
large school buses to be $5,485-$7,346. (This cost does not include 
added fuel costs to operate the buses, which would increase due to the 
added weight from the seat belt system and different school bus seats.) 
The benefits would be achieved at a cost of between $23 and $36 million 
per equivalent life saved. (This estimate of cost per equivalent life 
saved did not factor in increased fuel costs or the effect of the loss 
in seating capacity.)
    After considering all available information, NHTSA was not able to 
conclude that there exists an unreasonable risk of death or injury in 
an accident that justified an FMVSS requirement for seat belts on large 
school buses.\14\ Aside from the fact that large school buses were 
already very safe, real world data showed that fatalities and injuries 
occurring in school bus loading/unloading zones, and fatalities and 
injuries associated with other school transportation modes (walking, 
biking, transporting in private vehicles), are significantly higher 
than those occurring in the school bus. The agency determined that a 
Federal requirement for seat belts to address fatalities and injuries 
on large school buses would not be appropriate since large school buses 
were very safe and the cost of such a requirement would likely impact 
the monies available to local jurisdictions to use toward their pupil 
transportation programs. The greater cost to buy and operate a school 
bus with seat belts may reduce the number of school buses available for 
pupil transportation and divert the limited school transportation funds 
away from important safety programs, such as driver and pupil training 
on safe loading/unloading practices.
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    \14\ Under the Vehicle Safety Act, NHTSA is authorized to 
prescribe motor vehicle safety standards that are practicable, that 
meet the need for motor vehicle safety, and that are stated in 
objective terms. Under the Safety Act, ``motor vehicle safety'' 
means the performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment 
in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risk of 
accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or 
performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of 
death or injury in an accident. * * *'' 49 U.S.C. 30102(a)(8). After 
considering all available information, we could not conclude that a 
requirement for seat belts on large school buses would protect 
against an unreasonable risk of accident or an unreasonable risk of 
death or injury in an accident. 73 FR at 62745. Based on available 
information, we concluded that a science-based, data-driven 
determination that there should be a Federal requirement for seat 
belts could not be supported.
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    In the October 2008 final rule, the agency affirmed that States and 
local jurisdictions should continue to have the choice of whether to 
order seat belts on their large school buses since belts could enhance 
compartmentalization. We stated our view that States and local school 
districts are better able to analyze school transportation risks 
particular to them and identify approaches to best manage and reduce 
those safety risks.
    The agency encouraged local officials to make the decisions most 
appropriate for their individual needs to most safely transport their 
students to and from school. (Final rule, 73 FR at 62745.)

The Petition

    The CAS petition requests the agency to mandate a lap/shoulder belt 
requirement for all seating positions on all school buses. The 
petitioners disagree with the agency's discussion in the November 21, 
2007 NPRM and October 21, 2008 final rule on this subject (RIN 2127-
AK09) and believe that the agency ``ignored'' NTSB recommendation NTSB/
SIR-99/04 (1999).\15\ NTSB/SIR-99/04 recommended, among other things, 
that NHTSA develop performance standards for school bus occupant 
protection systems that account for frontal impacts, side impacts, rear 
impacts, and rollovers (Recommendation H-99-45), and recommended that 
NHTSA require new school buses to have an occupant crash protection 
system that meets the new performance standards and retains passengers 
within the seating compartment throughout the accident sequence of all 
accident scenarios (H-99-46). The petitioners state that NTSB 
classified NHTSA's response to H-99-46 as ``Closed--Unacceptable 
Action.'' \16\
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    \15\ National Transportation Safety Board, Highway Special 
Investigation Report, Bus Crashworthiness Issues, September 21, 
1999.
    \16\ With regard to H-99-45, the NTSB explains in the Highway 
Accident Brief NTSB/HAB-9/03, footnote 4 that ``[t]he Board's vote 
on the status of Safety Recommendation H-99-45 was split, with two 
members voting `Closed--Acceptable Alternative Action' and two 
members voting `Closed--Unacceptable Action.' As a result of the 
split vote, Safety Recommendation H-99-45 remained `Open--Acceptable 
Response.' ''
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    The petitioners provided an overview of the development of seat 
belts in motor vehicles, starting in the 1950s, and expressed 
dissatisfaction with FMVSS No. 222 due to the standard's specifying, 
since 1977, requirements for compartmentalization for large school 
buses and not for seat belts. They base many of their arguments for a 
seat belt requirement on what they believe to be limitations of 
compartmentalization, views that were previously expressed, most 
recently in response to the 2007 NPRM of RIN 2127-AK09, by proponents 
of the opinion that NHTSA should require seat belts on large school 
buses.
    The petitioners cite an NTSB Highway Accident Brief \17\ regarding 
a May 28, 2008, school bus rollover accident near Milton, Florida, in 
which all the passengers were wearing lap belts and only one sustained 
a serious injury (according to the NTSB, the injury was possibly due to 
a loosely worn belt.) The NTSB determined that injury severity in the 
Milton, Florida crash ``was mitigated by the use of lap belts.'' The 
petitioners state that NTSB referred to a similar rollover crash in

[[Page 53106]]

Flagstaff, Arizona, on August 14, 1996. In the Arizona crash, the large 
school bus did not have passenger seat belts, and the accident resulted 
in multiple ejections and one passenger sustaining lifetime crippling 
injuries.\18\
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    \17\ National Transportation Safety Board, Highway Accident 
Brief, School Bus Loss of Control and Rollover, Interstate 10, Near 
Milton, Florida, May 28, 2008, NTSB/HAB-09/03.
    \18\ The NTSB/HAB-09/03 calls the Florida and Arizona accidents 
``comparable.'' The NTSB document does not have a statement about 
the possible effect of belts in the Arizona accident.
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    The petitioners also believe that NHTSA should require seat belts 
on large school buses because there has been a ``thirty-year history of 
failure by school districts and states to voluntarily install belts on 
large school buses.'' The petition refers to a January 9, 2010 fatal 
crash in Hartford, Connecticut, involving a school bus carrying 16 
students and 2 adult passengers, which did not have seat belts.\19\ The 
petition states that following the crash, there was a State move to 
require seat belts on school buses, but it was unsuccessful. ``History 
has demonstrated that * * * voluntary implementations by school 
authorities are extremely rare unless the vehicle construction 
improvement is required by law or regulatory standard at time of 
manufacture.''
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    \19\ According to the petitioners, the school bus ``crashed 
through a roadside guardrail, plummeted down a 20-foot drop-off, and 
ended in the ravine below. One child was killed, and fifteen were 
injured.''
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NHTSA Response to Petition

    NHTSA has considered the question of whether seat belts should be 
required on large school buses from the inception of 
compartmentalization and the school bus safety standards and has 
reassessed its decisions repeatedly. Each time, after analyzing the 
implications of a seat belt requirement and all available information, 
we have concluded that a seat belt requirement for large school buses 
has not been shown to be warranted.
    We have discussed our position regarding the need for seat belts on 
large school buses at length in the 2007 NPRM and 2008 final rule 
documents of RIN 2127-AK09. To the extent the petitioners' assertions 
are repetitive of previously discussed points-of-view, our positions on 
the issues are set forth at length in the November 21, 2007 and October 
21, 2008 preambles, and are summarized above. For plain language 
purposes and to avoid redundancy when possible, we do not repeat the 
detailed discussion here; interested persons can review those documents 
for the agency's full response to the issues. In Appendix A of today's 
document, we address a few miscellaneous issues the petitioners raised, 
in a question-and-answer format.
    We carefully considered NTSB's recommendation H-99-46 when we 
developed the 2007 NPRM and 2008 final rule documents. We recognized in 
the RIN 2127-AK09 rulemaking that seat belts in large school buses may 
have some effect on reducing the risk of harm in frontal, side and 
rollover crashes, since seat belts can help restrain occupants within 
the seat and prevent their ejection and impact with interior surfaces. 
We estimated that in frontal, side and rollover crashes, lap/shoulder 
belts would save 2 lives annually.\20\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \20\ This number is low because in side crashes, children are 
typically killed when they are in the direct zone of intrusion of 
the impacting vehicle or object. Seat belts would be unlikely to be 
effective in preventing the side crash fatality. NHTSA is conducting 
research to determine how the passenger compartment can be made more 
protective to mitigate injurious impacts with interior surfaces. In 
rollover crashes, seat belts are effective in mitigating occupant 
ejections, but real world data show that school bus passenger 
fatalities and injuries in rollover events are rare (8 serious 
injuries and 2 fatalities annually).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    After considering all views, including H-99-46, we could not agree 
with those asking us to propose to require seat belts on large school 
buses. We assessed the safety need for seat belts. Since school buses 
are already very safe and are the safest mode of school transportation, 
a seat belt mandate would result in very few benefits.
    We also weighed that safety need against possible negative 
consequences of requiring seat belts on large school buses. The greater 
cost to purchase and operate a large school bus with seat belts may 
reduce the number of school buses available for pupil transportation, 
and/or divert limited school transportation funds away from other 
necessary safety programs, such as driver and pupil training on safe 
loading/unloading practices. We determined that it would be 
inappropriate for NHTSA to require seat belts given the low safety need 
for the belts, when such a decision has a direct bearing on the ability 
of the local decision-makers to allocate and spend limited pupil 
transportation resources on other school transportation safety needs 
that are likely to garner greater benefits, perhaps at lower cost.
    It bears repeating that the agency has been acutely aware that a 
decision on requiring seat belts in large school buses cannot ignore 
the implications of such a requirement on pupil transportation costs. 
The agency has been attentive to the fact that, as a result of 
requiring belts on large school buses, school bus purchasers would have 
to buy and operate belt-equipped vehicles regardless of whether seat 
belts would be appropriate for their needs. NHTSA has concluded that 
those costs should not be imposed on all purchasers of school buses 
when large school buses are currently very safe. In the area of school 
transportation especially, where a number of needs are competing for 
limited funds, we did not believe there was reason to limit the 
policymaking discretion of the States and local governments in deciding 
school transportation issues.
    As presented later in this document, our analysis shows that a 
National lap/shoulder belt requirement for large school buses could 
result in an increase of 10 to 19 student fatalities annually in the 
U.S. A State or local jurisdiction, that is able to, could adjust its 
budget in the face of a seat belt mandate to avoid impacting its pupil 
transportation safety program in a manner that might result in this net 
increase in student fatalities. However, each State or local 
jurisdiction will differ in its ability to adjust to the cost impacts 
of a belt mandate. Moreover, even if a State or local jurisdiction were 
able to adjust its budget, the soundness of a public policy that 
imposes this burden on State or local jurisdictions is debatable when 
the incremental benefit from seat belts on large school buses is so 
low. We believe that the decision to reallocate local resources to 
account for a seat belt mandate should be a matter left to the 
policymaking discretion of the State or local authorities.
    It is true that seat belts have been proven beneficial in rollover 
crashes. However, real world data show that school bus passenger 
fatalities and injuries in rollover events are rare. The CAS petition 
cites two school bus accidents in support of its position that there is 
a safety need for seat belts on large school buses. We cannot agree 
that citing to these rare instances of fatal rollover crashes forms the 
basis for a finding of a problem of national significance that warrants 
trumping local policymaking on this matter.
    Under the Vehicle Safety Act, the Federal motor vehicle safety 
standards we issue must ``meet the need for motor vehicle safety.'' 
``Motor vehicle safety'' means the performance of a motor vehicle or 
motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against 
unreasonable risk of accidents occurring because of the design, 
construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, and against 
unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident * * *'' 49 U.S.C. 
30102(a)(8). In large school buses, fatal rollover crashes are rare 
(approximately 1 crash per year, resulting in 2 fatalities annually), 
as are fatal side impact crashes in which seat belts would have

[[Page 53107]]

prevented death or serious injury. Fatal non-rollover frontal crashes 
in large school buses are uncommon (less than 1 crash per year). Large 
school buses are already very safe vehicles. More important, as 
explained below, requiring seat belts on large school buses is likely 
to have the effect of increasing fatalities related to school 
transportation. After considering all available information, we cannot 
conclude there is an unreasonable risk of death or injury in an 
accident that warrants a Federal requirement for seat belts on large 
school buses.

The Role of States and Local School Districts

    The petitioners state a Federal requirement for seat belts on large 
school buses is needed because there has been a ``thirty-year history 
of failure by school districts and states to voluntarily install belts 
on large school buses.''
    We strongly disagree with characterizing a State's decision not to 
order seat belts on large school buses as a ``failure.'' We believe 
that it is most appropriate if the decision to order seat belts on 
large school buses were left to the States and local jurisdictions 
rather than to NHTSA. 73 FR at 62750. States and local school districts 
are better able to recognize and analyze school transportation risks 
particular to their areas and identify approaches to best manage and 
reduce those safety risks. Local officials are in the best position to 
decide whether to purchase seat belts, since the officials must weigh a 
multitude of unique considerations bearing on purchasing decisions, 
especially when faced with budgetary constraints. Contrary to the 
petitioners' view, we believe that if, after weighing all the 
considerations, a purchaser decides not to purchase the belts, then the 
purchaser is determining what is best for its needs. 73 FR at 62752.
    An example of a State's undertaking a comprehensive assessment of 
whether to purchase belts for large school buses is illustrated by the 
State of Alabama. Its study is summarized below.

Alabama Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts

    On September 30, 2010, at the direction of Alabama Governor Bob 
Riley, Alabama issued a comprehensive study evaluating the need for 
seat belts in its school buses.\21\ Governor Riley had formed a Study 
Group on School Bus Seat Belts in the wake of a tragic school bus crash 
in Huntsville \22\ that took the lives of four students in November 
2006. The Study Group's report, ``Cost-Effectiveness of Lap/Shoulder 
Seat Belts on Large Alabama School Buses,'' was issued as part of an 
Alabama School Bus Seat Belt Pilot Project. The project was conducted 
for the Alabama State Department of Education and the Governor's Study 
Group on School Bus Seat Belts by the University Transportation Center 
for Alabama, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \21\ Turner, D., Anderson, K., Tedla, E., Lindly, J., Brown, D., 
``Cost-Effectiveness of Lap/Shoulder Seat Belts on Large Alabama 
School Buses,'' September 30, 2010. https://docs.alsde.edu/documents/120/Pilot_Project_Cost_Effectiveness.pdf.
    \22\ National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB/HAB-09/02, 
Highway Accident Brief: School Bus Bridge Override Following 
Collision With Passenger Vehicle, Huntsville, Alabama, November 20, 
2006, adopted November 2009.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The goal of the project was to explore the implementation of lap/
shoulder belts on newly-purchased large school buses in Alabama. The 
study included determining the rate of seat belt use, the effects on 
bus discipline, the attitudes of other stakeholders, the loss of 
capacity attributable to seat belts, and cost effectiveness of 
requiring lap/shoulder seat belts. The study also considered flexible 
seating systems in its analysis.\23\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \23\ These newly-developed seating systems have lap/shoulder 
belts and are reconfigurable to accommodate either three smaller 
students or two larger students.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The study found that school buses in Alabama travelled 83 million 
miles in 2009-2010 and on an average had 560 traffic crashes annually. 
The authors noted that school bus crashes per mile travelled is 
significantly lower than that of other vehicles in the State. In 
addition, since 1976, there were only five pupil fatalities inside of 
Alabama school buses.
    As part of the pilot project, 12 school buses in the state were 
equipped with lap/shoulder belts. Researchers observed over 125,000 
pupils inside the school buses, and determined that the average seat 
belt use in Alabama school buses was approximately 61.5 percent. Seat 
belt use was found to be quite variable in different buses, ranging 
from 4.8 to 94.5 percent. The study noted a 5 to 18 percent reduction 
in seating capacity of school buses with seat belts.
    The study reported that the estimated net benefit of implementing 
seat belts on Alabama school buses was -$104 million to -$125 million. 
The net benefit is negative because the cost of the seat belts exceeds 
the benefit.
    The authors of the study recommended using more cost-effective 
safety measures, other than implementing seat belts across Alabama's 
large school bus fleet. Most school bus pupil fatalities in Alabama 
occur outside the buses, in or near loading/unloading zones. The 
authors concluded that if funding is to be spent on school bus safety, 
more lives could be saved by investing in enhanced safety measures in 
loading/unloading zones.
    NHTSA believes that the Alabama study reinforces the view that a 
Federal mandate requiring seat belts on large school buses would be an 
overreaching venture for the agency. States such as Alabama have 
decided that more lives would be saved in the State if its resources 
were spent on safety measures other than the installation of seat 
belts. Given the limited safety need at issue, we are not convinced 
there is merit for NHTSA to override a State's conclusions.
    The petitioners were unsatisfied that only six States have laws 
requiring seat belts on large school buses. We do not view this low 
number as an indicator that the States have ``failed.'' Instead, we see 
it as a reflection of a stance taken by the States that their efforts 
and monies are better spent trying to keep children safe other than by 
the installation of seat belts on vehicles that are already very safe. 
For States such as Alabama, it is a decision taken after a thorough 
consideration of the issue.

NHTSA Analysis on the Changes in School Transportation Fatalities Due 
to a Seat Belt Requirement on Large School Buses

    NHTSA conducted an analysis of accident data to estimate, in a 
manner not previously explored, how a National lap/shoulder belt 
requirement for large school buses might affect the current pupil 
transportation arena as it is today. The analysis illustrates that a 
National lap/shoulder belt requirement could result in more children's 
lives lost than saved.
    The 2002 NAS study described earlier in this document indicated 
that the safest means for students to get to school \24\ is by a school 
bus. Among school-aged children killed annually in motor vehicle 
crashes during normal school travel hours, only 0.5 percent were 
passengers on school buses and 1.5 percent were pedestrians involved in 
school bus-related crashes. Seventy-five percent of the annual 
fatalities were to occupants in passenger vehicles and 24 percent were 
to those walking or riding a bicycle.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \24\ By ``school,'' we mean to or from school or related events. 
See 49 CFR 571.3, ``school bus.''
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Yet, there are many ways to get to school. If a school bus is not 
used to transport a child to school, other means

[[Page 53108]]

will be used to get to school. Those other means of getting to school 
are associated with higher safety risks.
    In previous documents, NHTSA has expressed concern that, when 
making regulatory decisions on possible enhancements to school bus 
safety, the agency must bear in mind how improvements in one area might 
have an adverse effect on programs in other areas. The net effect on 
safety could be negative if the costs of purchasing and maintaining the 
seat belts and ensuring their correct use results in non-implementation 
or reduced efficacy of other pupil transportation programs that affect 
child safety. For example, if school bus service were reduced because 
of the costs to purchase and operate large seat belt-equipped school 
buses, more children would have to get to school using alternative, 
less safe ways to get to school.
    NHTSA has analyzed accident data to estimate possible consequences 
on overall school transportation fatalities and injuries if a Federal 
requirement for seat belts on large school buses were adopted.\25\ 
NHTSA used data from the School Bus Fleet, 2010 Fact Book, the 2009 
National Household Travel Survey,\26\ and the Fatality Analysis 
Reporting System (FARS). To analyze the effects of lap/shoulder belts 
on the demand for school buses, we applied the theory of elasticity of 
demand. Elasticity is an economic term that measures responsiveness of 
one economic variable to a change in another economic variable. In this 
case, we are examining the change in demand for school buses when there 
is an increase in the cost of a bus.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \25\ ``Changes in School Bus Travel by Requiring Lap/Shoulder 
Belts and the Effect on Fatalities,'' National Highway Traffic 
Safety Administration, February 2011. A copy has been placed in the 
docket for today's document.
    \26\ 2009 National Household Travel Survey: U.S. Department of 
Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, February, 2011, 
http://nhts.ornl.gov/download.shtml.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    FARS data files for the period 2000 to 2008 were analyzed to 
determine the number of school-age children killed in motor vehicle 
crashes during the time of school transportation to and from school 
(Monday to Friday between 6 AM to 9 AM and 2 PM to 5 PM) of the school 
year (September 1 to June 15). As shown in Table 1 below, the analysis 
showed that among 6,869 fatalities of school-age children (5-18 year 
olds), 0.5 percent were occupants in school buses, 78.6 percent were in 
passenger vehicles, 12.1 percent were pedestrians, 4.9 percent were 
motorcycle riders and occupants of other vehicles, and 3.5 percent were 
pedalcyclists. Only 3.8 percent of the 6,869 fatalities were in school 
bus-related crashes \27\ among which a majority were passenger vehicle 
occupants and pedestrians as shown in Table 1.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \27\ A school bus-related crash is a crash which involves, 
either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or other 
type of bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or 
from school or school-related activities.

   Table 1--School-Age Children (5-18 Year-Old) Killed in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes During Normal Weekday
  School Transportation Hours (Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 2 p.m.-5 p.m.) of the School Year (September 1-
   June 15) Categorized by Mode of Transportation and Whether the Crash Was School Bus-Related. FARS 2000-2008
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Not school bus-     School bus-related           Total
                                                       related       -------------------------------------------
      School-age children (5-18 year-old)      ----------------------
                                                  Number    Percent     Number    Percent     Number    Percent
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Occupant in School Bus Body Type Vehicle or          ** 1        0.0         37        0.5         38       0.55
 Vehicle Used as School Bus...................
Occupant of Other Bus Type....................          2        0.0          0        0.0          2        0.0
Passenger Vehicle Occupant....................       5268       76.7        131        1.9       5399       78.6
Motorcycle Rider..............................        128        1.9          3        0.0        131        1.9
Occupant of All Other Vehicle Types...........        198        2.9          5        0.1        203        3.0
Pedestrian....................................        748       10.9         81        1.2        829       12.1
Bicyclist.....................................        233        3.4          6        0.1        239        3.5
Other/Unknown.................................         27        0.4          1        0.0         28        0.4
                                               -----------------------------------------------------------------
    Total.....................................       6605       96.2        264        3.8       6869     100.0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
** A van-based school bus that was not functioning as a school bus at the time of the crash.

    Table 2, below, shows the student miles traveled in the different 
school transportation modes, obtained from the 2009 National Household 
Travel Survey. Among 123,266 million miles traveled annually by school-
age children to and from school, 69.5 percent was in passenger 
vehicles, 25.3 percent was in school buses, 2.1 percent was walking and 
0.4 percent was riding a bicycle.

       Table 2--Distribution of Student Miles Traveled To-and-From School and School-Related Activities by
                                               Transportation Mode
                                [Source: National Household Travel Survey--2009]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Million miles traveled
                       Mode of travel                        ---------------------------------------------------
                                                                Morning     Afternoon      Total       Percent
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
School Buses................................................      15407.6      15793.7      31201.3         25.3
Other Buses.................................................        868.8        977.5       1846.4          1.5
Passenger Vehicles..........................................      39752.7      45975.3      85728.0         69.5
Pedestrian..................................................        904.6       1629.4       2534.0          2.1
Bicycles....................................................        137.0        320.2        457.2          0.4
Other (Motorcycle, Other Vehicles)..........................        429.5        816.2       1245.7          1.0

[[Page 53109]]

 
Unknown.....................................................        236.0         18.1        254.1          0.2
                                                             ---------------------------------------------------
    Total...................................................      57736.2      65530.3     123266.5  ...........
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In order to determine the number of fatalities per 100 million 
miles traveled by school-age children to and from school and school-
related activities, the fatality data for the years 2000-2008 (Table 1) 
were used along with the estimates of student miles traveled to and 
from school in 2009 \28\ shown in Table 2. An estimate of annual 
fatalities for each school transportation mode was determined by 
dividing the number of fatalities in 2000-2008 (from Table 1) by 9. The 
school-age child fatalities per 100 million miles traveled to and from 
school was determined by dividing the average annual fatalities for 
each transportation mode by the corresponding total miles traveled in 
that mode (Table 2). This analysis is shown in Table 3.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \28\ The distribution of student travel modes has not changed by 
much since the 2002 National Household Transportation survey.

Table 3--Number of School-Age Child Fatalities per 100 Million Miles Traveled by Students To and From School and
                                            School-Related Activities
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                           Miles
                                                               Number of                traveled in   Fatalities
                       Mode of travel                          fatalities     Annual        2009       per 100
                                                               2000-2008    fatalities    (million     million
                                                                                           miles)       miles
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
School Buses................................................         * 37          4.1      31201.3         0.01
Other Buses.................................................          * 3          0.3       1846.4         0.02
Passenger Vehicles..........................................         5399        599.9      85728.0         0.70
Pedestrian..................................................          829         92.1       2534.0         3.64
Bicycles....................................................          239         26.6        457.2         5.81
Other (Motorcycle, Other Vehicles)..........................          334         37.1       1245.7         2.98
Unknown.....................................................           28          3.1        254.1        1.22
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* The van-based school bus in Table 1 that was not functioning as a school bus at the time of the crash was put
  in the category ``other buses'' in Table 3.

    In order to evaluate the change in fatality due to a Federal 
requirement for seat belts on all school buses, the agency examined 
different types of bus seats with seat belts, their costs, and any 
changes in seating capacity in the bus by replacing existing seats with 
seats with seat belts. In the October 2008 final rule, the agency 
estimated that the cost of a large school bus (66-72 passengers) 
without seat belts is $75,000 and the incremental cost of adding seat 
belts on large school buses is $5,485 to $7,345 per bus. Some State 
officials have suggested that seats with seat belts cost closer to 
$10,296.\29\ The agency estimated that these seats with seat belts 
could result in a loss in bus capacity by as much as 17 percent, 
depending on the mix of students riding in the buses.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \29\ Presentation by Charlie Hood, Director of Student 
Transportation in the Florida Department of Eductation at the July 
11, 2007 Public Meeting on the issue of seat belts in large school 
buses, Docket No. NHTSA-2007-28103-0016, http://www.regulations.gov.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In recent years, flexible school bus seat designs (flex-seats) have 
emerged in the marketplace where lap/shoulder belts on these bench 
seats can be adjusted to provide two lap/shoulder belts for two 
average-size high school students or three lap/shoulder belts for three 
elementary school students. These flex-seats with seat belts offer the 
potential for maintaining the original bus capacity. We do not have 
cost estimates for flex-seats but expect it to be in the range of the 
high cost estimate ($10,296). To estimate the maximum benefit for lap/
shoulder belts, we only considered the flex-seat designs which can 
potentially limit any loss in bus capacity. Therefore, the percentage 
increase in cost of a large school bus with lap/shoulder belts without 
any resulting loss in capacity is 13.7 percent (=$10,296/$75,000).
    For determining the effect on demand for school buses due to an 
increase in cost \30\ of a new bus, we estimated a Price Elasticity of 
Demand (PED) value for school buses. PED is a measure of the 
responsiveness of the quantity demanded of a good or service to the 
change in its price and is calculated as the percent change in the 
quantity demanded divided by the percent change in price.\31\ In this 
case, we are assessing the percentage change in the number of new 
school buses purchased by school districts, for a percentage change in 
the price of new school buses due to a requirement for lap/shoulder 
belts.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \30\ This cost does not include operating and maintenance costs 
(such as additional fuel cost due to increase in weight of the bus 
and additional cost to maintain seat belts).
    \31\ PED = (percentage change in quantity demanded) / 
(percentage change in price).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In economic terms, the overriding factor in determining the PED is 
the willingness and ability of consumers after a price change to 
postpone consumption decisions concerning the good and to search for 
substitutes. A number of factors can thus affect the PED of a good or 
service including:
    1. The availability of substitute goods and services: The more 
easily available

[[Page 53110]]

the substitute goods and services, the higher the PED is likely to be.
    2. Percentage of Income: The higher the percentage of the 
consumer's income that the good or service represents, the higher the 
PED tends to be.
    3. Necessity: The more necessary the good or service is, the lower 
the PED for the good or service.
    4. Duration of price change: The longer the price change holds, the 
higher the PED is likely to be since there is more time available to 
find substitutes.
    5. Who pays: When the purchaser does not directly pay for the good, 
the PED is likely to be lower.
    Various research methods are used to calculate PEDs in real life, 
including analysis of historic sales data and surveys of customer 
preferences. To determine the PED for school bus transportation, the 
agency examined PEDs associated with public transportation.\32\ The bus 
transit fare PED values, published by the American Public 
Transportation Association (APTA) and widely used for transit planning 
and modeling in North America, suggest PED values in the range of 0.36 
to 0.43. This APTA estimate was based on a study of the short-term 
(less than two years) effects of fare changes in 52 U.S. transit 
systems during the late 1980s. Based on extensive research, 
Transportation Research Laboratory (TRL) \33\ calculated that bus fare 
PED values average around 0.4 in the short-run, 0.56 in the medium run, 
and 1.0 over the long run, while metro rail fare elasticities are 0.3 
in the short run and 0.6 in the long run.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \32\ Transportation Elasticities--How Prices and other Factors 
Effect Travel Behavior, Transportation Demand Management (TDM) 
Strategies Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm11.htm#_Toc161022586.
    \33\ TRL (2004), The Demand for Public Transit: A Practical 
Guide, Transportation Research Laboratory, Report TRL 593 (http://www.trl.co.uk); at http://www.demandforpublictransport.co.uk. This 
240-page document is a detailed analysis of factors that affect 
transit demand, including demographic and geographic factors, price, 
service quality and the price of other modes.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We believe that the PED estimates for school bus transportation are 
likely to be similar to that for transit systems since the alternative 
services are similar (use of personal car, walking, or biking). Since a 
mandate for seat belts on school buses would not be a temporary cost 
increase and would be applicable to all new buses sold after the 
compliance date of such a rule, we are only considering PED in the long 
run. The cost of school bus transportation is an indirect cost to the 
consumer; therefore, we expect the PED for school buses to be a little 
lower than the estimates of PED in the long run for transit buses and 
metro rail. We do not expect the PED value for school bus 
transportation to be equal to 1.0 \34\ because we expect that school 
districts will find creative ways to maximize school transportation 
service in spite of the added cost of new school buses.\35\ Therefore, 
based on the available PED values for transit systems, we estimate PED 
values for school bus transportation to range between 0.35 and 0.6.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \34\ PED = 1.0 implies that the percentage decrease in the 
number of school buses bought by a school district is equal to the 
percentage increase in the cost of a new school bus.
    \35\ One such option would be reducing operations to a 4-day 
school week which is currently under consideration in 13 percent of 
the school districts nationwide. NAPT School Bus Fleet Magazine, 
June 2010.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    When school district officials are faced with installing lap/
shoulder belts in school buses, they will purchase the number of buses 
according to their budget. If their budget is limited, using PED values 
from 0.35 to 0.6 for school buses, a 13.7 percent increase in the price 
of a school bus would result in a 4.795 (13.7 x 0.35) percent to 8.22 
(13.7 x 0.6) percent decrease in quantity demanded. We have assumed 
that the percentage decrease in the demand for school buses results in 
a similar decrease in school bus ridership (in this case, decrease in 
student miles traveled in school buses). The decrease in school bus 
ridership would result in students taking other modes of transportation 
to and from school. We assume that the students who no longer can take 
the school bus would adopt a mode of travel roughly in the same 
proportion as that being used currently by those who do not use the 
school bus.
    Thus, we distributed the decrease in student miles traveled by 
school buses among the other modes of travel in accordance with the 
proportion of vehicle miles traveled in non-school bus travel modes 
presented in Table 2, above. Based on the redistributed student miles 
traveled, we estimated the number of fatalities associated with the 
different transportation modes, using the fatalities per 100 million 
vehicle miles traveled for the different transportation modes in Table 
3, above. Table 4 presents the redistribution of vehicle miles traveled 
and the resulting number of fatalities for an 8.22 percent reduction in 
vehicle miles traveled in school buses (corresponding to a PED of 0.6).

Table 4--Student Miles Traveled and Annual Fatalities for Baseline Condition (No Seat Belts on School Buses) and
    Redistributed Vehicle Miles Traveled and Associated Annual Fatalities for a Reduction in School Bus Miles
                              Traveled by 8.22 Percent Corresponding to a PED = 0.6
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Miles traveled (millions)                   Annual fatalities
         Mode of travel          -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  Baseline (table 3)   Redistributed \1\  Baseline (table 3)   Redistributed \2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
School Buses....................             31201.3             28636.6                 4.1                 3.8
Other Buses.....................              1846.4              1897.8                 0.3                 0.3
Passenger Vehicles..............             85728.0             88116.2               599.9               616.6
Pedestrian......................              2534.0              2604.6                92.1                94.7
Bicycles........................               457.2               469.9                26.6                27.3
Other (Motorcycle, Other                      1245.7              1280.4                37.1                38.1
 Vehicles)......................
Unknown.........................               254.1               261.1                 3.1                 3.2
                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total.......................            123266.5            123266.5               763.2              784.0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ School bus miles traveled were reduced by 8.22 percent of the baseline and these miles were redistributed
  according to the proportion of vehicle miles traveled in non-school bus transportation modes in Table 2. This
  column represents the student miles traveled to and from school in the various transportation modes when all
  school buses have seat belts.
\2\ The redistributed annual fatalities were computed by multiplying the fatalities per 100 million miles (last
  column in Table 3) with the redistributed miles traveled in this table. This column represents the number of
  fatalities due to a reduction of school bus service by 8.22 percent.


[[Page 53111]]

    In the October 21, 2008 final rule, the agency estimated that seat 
belts on school buses would prevent 2 fatalities annually. Therefore, 
the annual redistributed school bus fatalities in Table 4 are reduced 
by 2 due to seat belts (i.e., 3.8 - 2 = 1.8). Similarly, the total 
number of school transportation fatalities when all school buses are 
required to have seat belts is 782 (i.e., 784 - 2 = 782). This total 
number is 18.8 fatalities more than the baseline when seat belts are 
not required on school buses. Therefore, for a PED = 0.6 for school 
buses, the requirement for seat belts on school buses would result in 
18.8 more school transportation-related fatalities per year even though 
seat belts are expected to save 2 lives annually. Using a PED = 0.35 
(the lower estimate of the PED range), the number of redistributed 
fatalities is 775.4. After subtracting the estimated 2 lives saved by 
seat belts on school buses, the increase in school transportation 
fatalities when all school buses are required to have seat belts is 
10.2 compared to the baseline.
    This analysis suggests that there could be an overall increase of 
10.2-18.8 school transportation fatalities if seat belts are required 
on all school buses. The cost estimates used in this analysis assume 
that there is no loss in capacity. Since school buses are the safest 
form of school transportation, any reduction in capacity per bus will 
result in more school transportation fatalities than when there is no 
loss in capacity. The cost estimates in our analysis also do not 
account for added fuel costs that would incur due to more fuel being 
used to operate heavier school buses equipped with seat belt systems.

Conclusion

    After carefully considering all aspects of the petition, the agency 
has decided to deny it. In the 2007 NPRM and 2008 final rule documents, 
we considered but did not agree with NTSB's recommendation H-99-46 to 
the extent that the recommendation asked NHTSA to require lap/shoulder 
belts on large school buses. The petitioners have not presented 
information to suggest that the agency's decision not to require lap/
shoulder belts on large school buses was incorrect.
    The agency's latest analysis indicates that a requirement for lap/
shoulder belts on all school buses may result in an additional 10 to 19 
school transportation fatalities than currently where there is no such 
Federal requirement. A State or local jurisdiction, that is able to, 
could adjust its budget to avoid impacting its pupil transportation 
safety program in a manner that might result in this net increase in 
student fatalities in the face of a seat belt mandate. However, we 
believe that the decision to reallocate local resources to account for 
seat belts should be a matter left to the policymaking discretion of 
the State or local authorities. Large school buses are already very 
safe. States or local authorities should continue to have the 
discretion to decide whether their efforts and monies should be spent 
on seat belts on large school buses, or on measures that could be more 
effective in improving pupil transportation safety.
    In accordance with 49 CFR part 552, this completes the agency's 
review of the petition for rulemaking.

    Authority: 49 U.S.C. 322, 30111, 30115, 30117, and 30162; 
delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.50 and 501.8.

    Issued on: August 18, 2011.
Christopher J. Bonanti,
Associate Administrator for Rulemaking.

Appendix A: Miscellaneous Issues Raised by the Petitioners

    Question 1. Why doesn't NHTSA require seat belts on large school 
buses when NHTSA's April 2002 report to Congress \36\ on school bus 
safety showed that lap/shoulder belts offered the best level of 
protection compared to lap belts or compartmentalization alone? 
Didn't the 2002 NHTSA report show that head injury criterion (HIC) 
measurements were significantly lower for lap/shoulder belts than 
for compartmentalization and the seat belts kept the dummies in 
their seats?
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    \36\ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Report to 
Congress--School Bus Safety: Crashworthiness Research, April 2002, 
http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Multimedia/PDFs/Crashworthiness/SchoolBus/SBReportFINAL.pdf.
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    Answer: NHTSA's 2002 school bus safety study results provided 
information about potential enhancements to large school bus 
occupant protection that could be achieved through the use of lap/
shoulder seat belts. The study involved simulations of a 48 km/h 
frontal crash test of a large school bus (Type C) into a rigid 
barrier using a test sled and various test dummies (representing 
50th percentile adult male, 5th percentile adult female, and a 6-
year old child) in various seat and restraint configurations. The 
HIC measurements were low and below the injury assessment reference 
values (IARV) \37\ for all the dummies in all the restraint 
environments (compartmentalization with low and high seat backs, lap 
belts, and lap/shoulder belts) except for the unrestrained 50th 
percentile male dummy in some tests with low seat back height where 
the dummy overrode the seat and contacted the dummy in front. This 
issue was addressed in the 2008 final rule by requiring higher seat 
back heights (increased from 20 inches to 24 inches) to enhance 
protection through compartmentalization for larger occupants. The 
neck injury measures were above the IARV in some tests with the 
unrestrained 6-year-old child and 5th percentile female dummy while 
they were below the IARVs when restrained by lap/shoulder belts. 
However, neck injuries are rare in real world crashes so it is 
unclear how representative the laboratory tests were of the real 
world condition, e.g. how representative the test dummies were of 
humans, the sled test of an actual vehicle crash, and the magnitude 
of the crash replicated as compared to real-world school bus 
crashes. Nevertheless, the agency used these test results to 
determine the incremental benefits garnered in frontal crashes by 
the addition of lap/shoulder belts to large school bus seats and is 
presented in detail in NHTSA's Final Regulatory Evaluation (FRE) 
\38\ accompanying the 2008 final rule. The FRE determined that the 
addition of lap/shoulder belts in large school buses would save 0.55 
lives and 750 injuries (97 percent of which are minor/moderate 
severity) in frontal school bus crashes for 100 percent correct seat 
belt use. Using effectiveness estimates for lap/shoulder belts of 74 
percent in rollover and 21 percent in side impacts, the FRE 
estimated that lap/shoulder belts on large school buses would save 
1.33 lives in rollover and 0.25 lives in side impacts crashes when 
all occupants use their seat belts. These benefits are relatively 
low since school buses (with high back seats for effective 
compartmentalization) are already very safe and are the safest mode 
of transportation to and from school. The cost-benefit analysis in 
the FRE found that installing lap/shoulder belts on all new large 
school buses would cost $183-$252 million annually and save 2 lives 
and 1,900 injuries per year for 100 percent correct belt use.
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    \37\ Injury assessment in accordance with that specified in 
FMVSS No. 208, ``Occupant crash protection'').
    \38\ Final Regulatory Evaluation of the Final Rule to Upgrade 
School Bus Passenger Crash Protection in FMVSS Nos. 207, 208, 210, 
and 222, October 2008, Docket No. NHTSA-2008-0163-0002, http://www.regulations.gov.
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    Due to the limited funds available for school transportation, a 
Federal requirement for seat belts on all school buses may reduce 
school bus service and as a result school bus ridership. We are 
concerned that the reduced bus ridership may result in more student 
fatalities, since riding in private vehicles is less safe than 
riding a large school bus without seat belts. Our analysis presented 
in this notice shows that a Federal mandate for seat belts on large 
school buses could result in 10-19 more school children being killed 
annually while traveling to and from school. Therefore, the agency 
continues to not support a Federal requirement for seat belts on 
large school buses. We believe that States and local school 
districts are better able to analyze school transportation risks 
particular to them and identify approaches to best manage and reduce 
these safety risks. The final rule, while not requiring seat belts 
on large school buses, provides appropriate performance requirements 
for these systems if school districts determine that seat belt 
installation is in their best interest.
    Question 2. In a document submitted after publication of the 
October 21, 2008 final rule, Public Citizen (PC) submitted a post-
final

[[Page 53112]]

rule comment objecting to NHTSA's decision not to require lap/
shoulder belts on large school buses. For a summary of the comment, 
see 75 FR at 66694. Among other things, PC objected to the cost and 
benefit analysis of the Final Regulatory Evaluation (FRE). PC raised 
the question: why didn't the FRE ``discuss the effect of `economies 
of scale' in reducing the incremental cost of adding belts to the 
buses * * * Economies of scale and learning by doing can 
significantly reduce costs, but NHTSA's economic analyses makes no 
mention of these efforts.''
    Answer: We have evaluated this comment and do not believe that 
the ``economies of scale'' and ``learning by doing'' will 
significantly reduce the cost of requiring lap/shoulder belts in 
large school buses. The lap/shoulder belts in large school buses are 
similar to the lap/shoulder belts that are sold for the many 
millions of light duty vehicles, so the economies of scale for 
webbing, buckles, and retractors have already been achieved. There 
will be little economies of scale by the seat manufacturers; since 
they are just replacing one seat with one equipped with lap/shoulder 
belts. Again, they are just installing a different seat and perhaps 
a different seat track. We also do not agree that ``learning by 
doing'' will decrease the cost of installing lap/shoulder belts in 
large school buses because school bus manufacturers already know how 
to install lap/shoulder belts in large school buses.
    Question 3. In its comments to the final rule, PC stated that 
lap-only belts should not be permitted in school buses. PC stated 
that in 1999 the NTSB suggested there may be potential for greater 
injuries in occupants restrained using lap-only belts in side 
crashes. Why hasn't NHTSA banned lap belts in large school buses?
    Answer: The agency explained in the final rule that it has 
studied lap belts in frontal crashes in the school bus research 
program \39\ and analyzed data from States which include side impact 
and rollovers, and could not determine that lap belts translate to 
an overall greater safety risk. Our real world data indicates that 
lap belts are as effective as lap/shoulder belts in rollover 
crashes, and benefit far side occupants in side impacts involving 
these vehicles.
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    \39\ Report to Congress, School Bus Safety: Crashworthiness 
Research, April 2002.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    PC provided no data to support the implication that lap belts 
may be harmful in side impacts, and we disagree with its view of the 
1999 NTSB study. The NTSB came to the conclusion in the 1999 report 
that ``* * * because injuries occurred for all restraint conditions 
in the simulated accidents and because injury levels varied 
depending upon occupant kinematics and seating location, the Safety 
Board concludes that it cannot be determined whether the current 
design of available restraint systems for large school buses would 
have reduced the risk of injury to the school bus passengers in 
these accidents.''
    The NTSB has since studied two school bus crashes where lap-only 
belts have been beneficial in mitigating injuries in side impact and 
rollover crashes. In its review of the March 2000 side impact 
collision between a school bus and a freight train near the 
Tennessee and Georgia border \40\ and the May 2008 school bus 
rollover near Milton, Florida,\41\ the NTSB concluded that passenger 
injuries were reduced because of lap belts. We note that the Milton, 
Florida crash, where the school bus was equipped with lap belts, was 
cited by the petitioners, among which PC was a signatory, as an 
exemplar case where seat belts on large school buses were effective 
in preventing fatalities and serious injuries. Given the available 
information, the agency declines to change its position on the 
allowance of lap belts on large school buses in response to PC's 
comment.
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    \40\ ``Collision of CSXT Freight Train and Murray County School 
District School Bus at Railroad/Highway Grade Crossing, Conasauga, 
Tennessee,'' March 28, 2000; National Transportation Safety Board, 
HAR 01/03, December 2001.
    \41\ ``School Bus Loss of Control and Rollover, on Interstate 
10, near Milton, Florida,'' May 28, 2008; National Transportation 
Safety Board, HAB-09-03, November 2009.

 [FR Doc. 2011-21596 Filed 8-24-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-59-P