As electronic stability control (ESC) comes on board on more passenger cars, trucks, and other vehicles on the road, the time is good to adopt this powerful safety technology in school buses.
ESC has been required on all new passenger vehicles under 10,000 pounds in the U.S. since 2012. It’s even required on new school buses in Canada — but not in the U.S.
Now, even without a mandate in the U.S., ESC is becoming standard on many school buses, which is a step toward making pupil transportation even safer.
For those who aren’t yet familiar with the technology, ESC systems have sensors that monitor vehicle movement and steering. They can help mitigate rollover incidents by using automatic computer-controlled braking, and they can aid the driver in addressing severe under-steer or over-steer conditions that can lead to loss of control.
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule to require ESC systems on heavy trucks and some large buses, such as motorcoaches, but the agency exempted school buses.
Fast forward to late 2016, and large school bus OEMs had been offering ESC as an option for a year or more.
Then on Nov. 21, 2016, six students were killed and more than 30 were injured in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when their school bus went out of control, rolled onto its side, and slammed into a tree. Although we can’t say for sure how the outcome might have differed if the bus had been equipped with ESC, it was precisely the type of crash that the technology is designed to help avoid.
In May of this year, NTSB approved a special investigation report on the Chattanooga crash as well as the November 2016 fatal school bus crash in Baltimore, Maryland. In the report, NTSB reiterated its prior recommendation that NHTSA require stability control systems on all buses with a gross vehicle weight rating over 10,000 pounds.
ESC still isn’t required on school buses in the U.S., so adding the safety technology is still a proactive move. The same goes for school bus operators that adopt lap-shoulder belts in states that haven’t mandated them.
After all, when it comes to safety equipment, it’s a good position to be in when you can say that you went beyond what the government requires.