Test conducted to see how safe new school bus seats are

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WESTFIELD, Ind. - A semi cab T-boned a bus Tuesday as school administrators, police and state leaders looked on. It was a test to show Indiana Mills and Manufacturing, Inc.'s new SafeGuard FlexPlus school bus seats.

The new seats, which are going in buses that will be on Indiana roads come early 2018, are designed with what the company calls "SmartFrame Plus." It can keep riders safer whether they are using a seat belt or not.

"If the occupant is sitting behind one of our occupants, the seat itself stays upright and provides better protection to both the unbelted and belted occupant," said Nick Awaby, IMMI's vice president of engineering.

Awaby and his team have been working on the new seat for a couple of years. The work has included hundreds of tests and several side-impact tests, like Tuesday's at the company's Center for Advanced Product Evaluation (CAPE) crash test facility.

"It's really important to run these kinds of tests to help us understand how our seats perform and to also bring awareness to people in general to how vehicles can react in various situations and ultimately what happens to these students when they are on these buses," said Awaby.

Tuesday's test had several crash dummies in the bus. Some in the new FlexPlus seat and some were not. Not every dummy was buckled into a seat belt. The bus was hit by a 34,000 pound truck at 35 miles-per-hour.

The seat belts are lap-shoulder belts, much like seat belts in most cars on the road today.

After the collision, one dummy was ejected from the bus, while at least one dummy was still sitting upright and in its seat.

"Our seat belts are designed for various ranges or ages of occupants, so if you're a six-year-old or ten-year-old, you're able to adjust the seat belt in a way that fits you more snugly and more comfortable to wear so it ultimately encourages usage and improves your performance of an accident should ever happen," Awaby said.

The day also included a discussion about school bus safety between school administrators and state leaders.

Indiana doesn't require districts to purchase new buses with seat belts, but many at the discussion said they expected that to change once more districts are purchasing them.

Clark Pleasant Community Schools' director of transportation, Bob Downin, said the number of students riding buses and buckled in remains very low. His district is one of several in the state buying new buses with seat belts. The district has six buses coming that will also include the new SafeGuard Flex Plus seats.

Downin, who watched the crash test, said it was impressive to see how the safety measures helped with a side collision, rather than a crash at the front or rear.

"On a side impact, there is no safety device in there if you don’t have a lap-shoulder belt," said Downin. "They’re going to throw you to the middle or throw you over. This emphasizes why you need every safety thing you can get in a bus, no matter what the cost is.”

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