Barrier Installation Approved for School Buses

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school bus safetyHow do you maintain school bus safety, when there's a pandemic going on? Districts around the country are wrestling with how to limit the spread of COVID-19 within their buses, something which is no easy task. One proposal was to install plexiglass barriers within the bus, similar to cough guards at restaurants and checkout lines, to limit disease spread. However, there were questions as to whether this could be done legally and safely.

Fortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has weighed in on the matter, and issued guidelines (PDF) for the installation of such barriers. This should make it easier to boost school bus safety during the pandemic, with a minimum of extra expenditures.

The NHTSA OKs Plastic Disease Barriers On School Buses

The NHTSA's letter addresses two different types of barriers. One is a larger plexiglass barrier which is installed around the driver's seat, both behind them and to their right, which effectively creates a small cabin. The other type of barrier is described as plastic "soft shields" which attach to the roof of the bus and hang behind each passenger seat, creating a barrier between riders.

Their primary concern is that these barriers conform to several specific Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) which are relevant to maintaining school bus safety with these additions.

  • FMVSS 111 and FMVSS 205: The barriers need to be as transparent as possible, with minimal impact on visibility. This includes interior visibility, rear window\exit visibility, as well as the ability of other drivers to look through the bus from the outside.
  • FMVSS 222: The barriers cannot impede or compromise head protection zones in front of each seat, in the event of an accident.
  • FMVSS 302: The barriers must be properly fireproof. This isn't really an issue with plexiglass and similar materials, although districts should be careful about the materials used to affix the barriers.
  • FMVSS 217: The barriers cannot impede access to emergency exits, including the emergency window exits.

In the letter, the NHTSA also mentions that they are only responding to a specific inquiry, and consider the letter to be advisory in nature. It doesn't constitute any change to the current school bus safety regulations, nor does it imply that districts should feel compelled to implement these barriers.

It does, at the least, officially clear the way for schools to implement barriers if they wish, so long as they are careful to adhere to the mentioned safety standards.

Are Barriers The Right Solution?

With most experts predicting that the coronavirus will remain a threat well into 2021, there's a strong argument to be made for these barriers being a cost-effective upgrade.

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Is this something your district is considering, or has already done? Let's talk about it in the comments.