Deborah Davis Stewart is publisher and Editor-in-chief of Safe Ride News Publications.  She is also a nationally recognized expert on child passenger safety issues, including the LATCH system on which she wrote the book!

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Lessons from a School Bus

Researching and writing the School Bus Safety Handbook: Choosing and Using Child Safety Restraint Systems (now there’s a mouthful for you!) for Safe Ride News was a learning experience—even for myself, despite my many years of advocacy of school bus safety. 

My co-authors, Linda White, Mary Anderson, and I learned several lessons about the differences between the use of child restraints in personal vehicles and in school buses.  I’d like to share some of them with you.

First lesson—the words we use

Even the term used for child restraints is different. “Child safety restraint systems” (CSRS) is preferred in the industry and among parents of children with special needs because it avoids any negative connotation of “restraint” as used for discipline.   And “school bus” can mean many things, too.

Second lesson—a school bus is more than big and yellow

When you think about it, it’s obvious a school bus is a very different beast from the family car.  But buses are different from one another, too. Some provide more flexible seating options than others, such as LATCH anchors or built-in CSRS.  Finding the right CSRS for the right kid that can be installed properly in the right bus is complicated!

Third lesson—more rules than a yard stick

Some conventional CRs (oops, CSRS) can be used on buses, but only if … they fit into the cramped space between two school bus seats… and there are lap belts on board … and the lap belts are designed to be easily tightened through a belt path – and on and on.  You get the idea, right?

Fourth lesson—passengers of ALL sizes

Babies are going to school these days with their teen moms in buses. Some bus drivers told us that they had to transport babies as young as two weeks! For rear-facing kids, only conventional CRs can be used since no school bus-specific CSRS are made for rear-facing use.  Kids with special needs also come in all sizes, and are being integrated more and more into the “regular” school bus routes.

Answers you can count on

We developed the SRN School Bus Safety Handbook to be a primer for anyone dealing with the use of CSRS on school buses, including child care providers. Our intention is to untangle all the aspects of fitting the right CSRS to the child and to the school bus on their route, as well as using the device correctly.  In every community, school buses are carrying kids in CSRS, yet often the drivers and aides have only minimal guidance.

CPSTs may want to, or be called on to, work cooperatively with school transportation folks. You could offer a wealth of information, but you must be aware that what you learned about buses in the 32-hour course is just the tip of the iceberg.  Even the Handbook, by itself, is not enough.  Just like priming the walls before you paint, it is just the first layer of information.  And remember, entering the realm of pupil transportation is a bit like going to another country: the environment as well as the language may be different and needs to be understood.