Transportation Center researches bus seat belts

Katherine Martin

The University Transportation Center for Alabama is in the final stages of research and calculations for their study assessing the impact of seat belts in school buses, said Dan Turner, professor of civil engineering and principal researcher on the team.

Turner said the group expects to have the completed reports available on Sept. 30.

According to a press release, the University is the first institution to carry out comprehensive research of this kind.

Because of this, many national agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Safety Administration, are awaiting the findings of the research.

“We had about 15 students working for us, taking data, reading literature, making calculations and working very hard,” Turner said. “We feel like it’s our job to do our best work. We’re glad to see the University of Alabama recognized for our achievements.”

The $1.4 million study purchased 12 school buses equipped with seat belts that connect over the lap and shoulders and four ceiling-mounted cameras that monitor rider action, driver action, aide action and behavior, Turner said.

“There are 7,300 school buses that drive more than 400,040 miles a day in Alabama,” Turner said. “This is a big effort.”

Turner said bus drivers heavily influence whether students will wear seat belts.

“The single biggest factor in encouraging students to wear seatbelts is the driver,” Turner said. “In our studies, the driver is by far the most influential.”

The study will also reveal the benefit of having a bus aide to monitor students and encourage them to buckle their seat belts, a press release stated.

Turner said the bus aide position has been around for quite a while. He said six of the 12 buses involved in the study have aides on board.

Schools from 10 local school systems, including Tuscaloosa County, volunteered to take part in the study, Turner said.

Turner said school buses are already the safest vehicles on the road by far.

“Our job is not to make them safe,” Turner said. “It is to see how we can make them more safe and at what cost.”