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School bus safety; tie-downs and restraints.


Tie-downs and Restraints

Many children with disabilities travel to and from school in a motor vehicle. Some states (and provinces) and localities have established safety standards or regulations for transporting children with disabilities to school. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued standards for school bus seating for children without disabilities, it has not issued standards for children with disabilities. (In 1976, the NHTSA indicated that standards would be established. At that time, many children with disabilities were going to school for the first time as a result of P.L. 94-142. There are still no Federal regulations.)

Since there are no Federal safety standards, parents and professionals need to determine whether a child is being transported safely on an individual basis by carefully checking the seating and securement recommendations in this article and by reviewing any existing local and state regulations.


Children who are able to get on and off the school bus or van unassisted can often ride on the same seats as other children. For children who need positioning help to sit properly, special car safety seats (CSSs) or vests can usually be used on the bus seat. However, since seat belts are not required on school buses in many states, appropriate belt restraints need to be installed to secure the CSS to the bus seat and to secure the child. (See Making Your Home Work, April, for details about CSSs and the necessary restraints for each type.)

One lightweight seat, the Carrie Bus Seat (pictured below), has been designed and tested specifically for use on school buses. The seat is belted around the back of the school bus bench seat and underneath the seat. The child wears a safety harness for positioning on the seat itself; a school bus lap belt is fastened over the child and the seat. (Note: the Carrie Bus Seat should not be used in a passenger car or van.)

Sitting on a bus seat, using a seat belt, is a safer way to ride to school than remaining in a wheelchair, even one that is properly secured. Accordingly, whenever possible, a child can transfer from his wheelchair to the bus seat.

The challenge of getting a youngster who uses a wheelchair into a vehicle via lifts or ramps was discussed in Making Your Home Work in April. One additional safety concern when using lifts to access a school bus is to be certain that the child and the wheelchair are secure whenever the child in the chair has to wait on the raised platform before entering or leaving the bus. Once inside the vehicle, properly securing a passenger seated in a wheelchair or stroller can be complicated.

The terms "tie-down" and "restraint" are often used interchangeably to refer to the equipment (hardware) used to secure a wheelchair. We will use the term tie-down to refer to the system by which the wheelchair is secured to the bus, while the term restraint will be used to refer to the system which secures the individual. This usage makes clear that securing the chair and securing the individual are separate challenges, and that an effective protection system addresses both. Tie-down and restraint systems together are sometimes referred to as occupant protection systems.

Wheelchairs are not actually tied down. Rather, the term tie-down (sometimes called securement hardware) refers to the complete system for securing the chair including (1) the slotted metal track or plate which is bolted to the floor of the vehicle; (2) the bolts and washers used to install the track or plate; and (3) the straps (or clamp-like or hook devices) which attach to the slots in the track (or plate) and to the wheelchair to hold the chair in place.

The passenger restraint system should include both a shoulder belt (usually attached at one end to the side of the vehicle while the other end attaches to the chair) and a lap belt or a harness with two shoulder straps that attach to a lap belt. Lap belts should always be positioned low on the child's hips, below the abdomen, on a skeletal part of the body rather than over soft tissue.


1). Find out whether tie-downs and restraints have been dynamically tested by requesting reports from manufacturers. Dynamic testing means that the occupant protection system has been evaluated in a simulated crash. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) has been the major testing facility for many products; some manufacturers have created their own testing laboratories. Some tie-down and restraint systems have been tested with a variety of wheelchair models (manual and power).

However, both children and wheelchairs come in different sizes and weights and not all combinations of systems have been tested. Parents and school officials should ask adaptive equipment professionals from whom chairs are usually purchased and/or manufacturers to recommend the best tie-down system to secure a particular model wheelchair.

2). The chair should be properly anchored with four points of attachment to the chair and two to four on the vehicle. The tie-down system must be attached according to the manufacturer's instructions to sturdy parts of the wheelchair frame as well as to the floor of the vehicle. Similarly, the track or plate parts of the tie down system must be bolted to the bus floor according to specifications. Sometimes, this process requires the assistance of both the bus manufacturer and the tie-down manufacturer to determine the best place(s) to install the system.

3). The child should be secured in the wheel-chair with a dynamically tested restraint system which includes both a shoulder harness (or belt) for upper body protection and a lap belt. The way the restraints are attached to the vehicle, the tie-down system, and the chair can vary with the design of the system.

Restraints, like tie-downs, should be installed and used according to the manufacturer's instructions. The proper fitting of the restraints is especially important when children use special supports for proper seating position. When possible, the clinical team involved in designing the positioning system should review the way the restraints will be used.

Pieces of equipment, such as a restraints will be used.

Pieces of equipment, such as a wheelchair tray, attached to the front of a wheelchair should be removed for travelling because each one could become a dangerous obstacle in a crash situation. Once removed, the equipment will need to be secured separately.

4). Passengers in wheelchairs should ride facing forward. Just as Federal standards require that children (without disabilities) on school buses face forwards, children in wheelchairs should also face forwards. Dynamic tests performed with wheelchairs installed facing sideways (and properly secured with tie downs and restraints) have shown that the passenger cannot be adequately protected in a head-on crash (the most common accident). Under crash conditions, a wheelchair facing sideways will twist and turn, and the occupant will be thrown against the side structure of the chair, or out of the chair entirely. (Technically, facing rearward is also safe. However, it is not recommended for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many passengers do not like it.)

5). Make sure that bus drivers and bus attendants have been trained on the proper use of tie-downs and restraints for each child and chair on the bus, as well as on how to get all children with disabilities off the bus quickly in an emergency -- wherever they are seated. The ride to school is potentially the most dangerous activity of the day; it is critical that bus personnel be well trained.

PHOTO : The Carrie Bus Seat by J.A. Preston.

PHOTO : CHILD ON SCHOOL BUS Illustrates four points of attachment to stroller, four points of

PHOTO : attachment to plates in floor of vehicle; child secured with shoulder belt to vehicle.
COPYRIGHT 1989 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Azrael, Abby
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 1975-1989; a judicial history.
Next Article:Educating all students in the mainstream of regular education.

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