Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Update on School Bus Safety

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Update on School Bus Safety

Article excerpt

Bus companies, local school boards, parents and some transportation equipment manufacturers are trying to decide on the safest way for children who use wheelchairs to ride on regular school buses. Last January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published school bus wheelchair restraint regulations that safe seating advocates called discriminatory and inadequate (Exceptional Parent, March 1993). Supporters of comparable safe seating await decisions on two petitions that ask NHTSA to reconsider its regulations-and they have a lawsuit pending in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that will move forward if NHTSA refuses.

Wheelchairs on regular school buses

At the same time, transportation officials, equipment manufacturers, attorneys and other concerned people have been discussing wheelchair restraint standards at forums such as the Second National Conference and Exhibition on Transporting Students with Disabilities, held in Georgia last March. Speaking at the conference, Michigan attorney Lynwood Beekman identified a range of possible ways to decrease liability risks brought about by transporting students in wheelchairs on school buses.

Beekman suggested that students could be transporteel in regular bus seats with seat belts and other appropriate restraints if they were lifted or assisted in and out of their wheelchairs. He noted that alhough it is illegal to carry students with disabilities on and off school buses, once on board students may be shifted from wheelchairs into regular bus seats. Beekman cautioned that his suggestion would not be feasible without a careful plan to secure wheelchairs in a safe place and to evacuate all students from the bus in an emergency.

Transportation seating review checklist

Beekman recommended that a letter be sent to all parents of students with disabilities who use wheelchairs while being transported to and from school. The letter would advise parents of safety concerns and would suggest that parents and officials meet to go over a "Transportation Seating Review Checklist." The checklist would identify the type of wheelchair to be transported, any realistic alternative ways to transport the student in a motor vehicle, wheelchair securement and passenger restraint devices, padding and any extra supportive equipment that must be transported.

The letter would also remind parents that most users' manuals published by wheelchair manufacturers recommend against riding in wheelchairs in moving vehicles. At least one major wheelchair company affixes stickers that read "This wheelchair has not been approved for use as a seating surface within a moving vehicle" directly onto its product.

Parent involvement

Parents must make it clear to manufacturers that they are concerned about motor vehicle transportation for their children who use wheelchairs. Only then will manufacturers design transportable mobilityW devices and set appropriate standards for wheelchair tie-downs and passenger restraints. Advocate and transportation official Lyle Stephens encourages parents to read literature on specific wheelchair models and to ask manufacturers which wheelchairs can serve as safe seats in motor vehicles. "Put the heat on manufacturers," he advises. "[Ask] 'Is this a transportable wheelchair?"'

Developing transportable wheelchair standards

User preferences rather than inadequate technology may be why most wheelchairs cannot be safely transported in motor vehicles. …

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