Shoulder belts to be added on some school buses

Posted at 7:18 PM, Dec 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-07 19:18:39-05

What was captured over a period of 8 seconds on St. Lucie County school bus-surveillance video in 2012 changed the lives of Lillian and Simon Beauchamp.

"He just said Aaron's not coming back,” said Lillian. She was recalling the March, 2012 day she found out her 9-year-old son Aaron was killed after the school bus he was riding on crashed into an on-coming semi in Port  St. Lucie.

“There's words for people who lose their spouse and people who lose their parents but not their children," Aaron’s mom recently told the Contact 5 Investigators when she spoke publicly for the first time since the crash.

Today, Aaron’s death is now changing lives for students across St. Lucie County.

“The NTSB report and recommendations is what spurred us into action to go this route.  So in a way, yes, it did,” said Don Carter, St. Lucie County Schools’ Transportation Director when asked if Aaron’s death inspired the district to purchase new school buses equipped with both lap and shoulder belts.

"We feel that this is the safest scenario that's out there," Carter explained while showing the Contact 5 Investigators one of its new buses equipped with what’s called 3-point seatbelts.

Following Aaron’s death, researchers from the National Transportation Safety Board, along with a panel of leading safety experts, studied the St. Lucie County school bus crash.  The crash made history for researchers because of the (4) surveillance cameras on board.  The cameras captured moments before, during and after the crash; something rare for researchers to have access to.  “It gave us a completely new look at school buses,” said NTSB Investigator Dr. Kristin Poland.  Poland met with the Contact 5 Investigators in October to detail the findings from the crash for a special report, Lessons from Aaron

Among the NTSB’s conclusions from the crash, school buses equipped with both lap and shoulder belts provide the best protection for students.  Video from the crash that killed Aaron showed just how much students moved, even when they were strapped in with lap belts.  Poland and her team presented their findings and support for 3-point seatbelts to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this summer.  Last month, NHTSA publicly endorsed 3-point seatbelts on all school buses in the country.

The 3-point seatbelts work just the way they do in your own car. A shoulder harness protects the upper body while a lap belt around the waist secures the lower body.  A bus equipped with 3-point seatbelts cost the St. Lucie County school district rouhgly $8 thousand more  than school buses equipped with just lap belts.  In comparison, a school bus equipped with air conditioning costs approximately $13,000 more.

25 school buses equipped with 3-point seatbelts hit St. Lucie County roads this year, twenty-five more are expected to arrive in the spring.

“If we continue with this, some years from now, all of our fleet will have the 3 point belts,” said Carter who also told the Contact 5 Investigators any new buses ordered from here on out will include lap and shoulder belts.

In Palm Beach County, of the district’s 650 school buses, 40 are currently equipped with 3-point seatbelts.

“We're going to start ordering our school buses with the 3 point seatbelts,” said Pete Denato, Transportation Administrator for Palm Beach County schools.

Right now, school buses equipped with shoulder and lap belts are only servicing handicapped students.

More are expected in the next two years.

“If it helps one person avoid an injury, we're going to do it,” he said.

Keeping Aaron Beauchamp's memory alive

“I hope he (Aaron) would be happy that something good came out of the tragedy,” said Don Carter.

"If they can learn from it then his life would have made a difference," said Aaron’s mom.

In Martin County, the school district's fleet currently consists of buses equipped with just lap belts.  It is the same for Indian River County schools.