State highway safety officials urge DOT to rethink school bus seat belt funding stance
Statement for Attribution to Christopher J. Murphy, Chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)
WASHINGTON — Today, GHSA released its response to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on school bus safety. In the letter, the Association indicated it was primarily concerned about the funding of the proposed changes. The part of the proposal that concerns GHSA is the section that applies to large school buses. According to the proposed rule, school districts that decide to add seat belts could apply for existing federal highway safety grant funds to cover the cost of the additional safety equipment. While this use of grant funds is not new, the additional focus on the issue may cause states to be pressured to spend federal highway safety money for this purpose to the detriment of many competing highway safety needs.
The greatest dangers to children, as evidenced by years of data from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System are the areas around school buses and on the way to and from school. To address this, the DOT and states have wisely implemented engineering improvements as well as the Safe Routes to School program. As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has argued in the past, school buses are an incredibly safe form of transportation. This is demonstrated in each state's crash data.
Currently, GHSA members ensure that federal highway safety funds are spent in areas that will have the most lifesaving benefit. Largely these are directed to critical occupant protection, drunk driving and speeding programs. The funds are limited and could be quickly devoured if a state is pressured to use its federal funding for seat belts on school buses. Using Maryland as an example, the state receives approximately 3.3 million dollars each year for its basic behavioral highway safety program. The state could spend that full amount on the school bus improvements and barely meet the need.
States are increasingly developing data-based highway safety programs that show the most likelihood of reducing fatalities. Funding seat belts on school buses does not meet that criterion.
GHSA urges DOT to rethink this position and if it moves forward suggests Secretary Peters ask Congress for a new funding source in the next highway reauthorization.
To view the DOT's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, visit http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/.
GHSA's comments on the proposal are posted at http://www.ghsa.org/html/issues/pdf/bus.comments.1.16.08.pdf.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy and enhance program management. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Contact GHSA at 202.789.0942 or visit http://www.ghsa.org/.
Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association, +1-202-789-0942, firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Site: http://www.ghsa.org/