Westfield company pushes school bus seat belts as NTSB reviews safety improvements

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Westfield-based IMMI, a company that manufactures bus seating with lap and shoulder belts among other products, crashed a school bus on Thursday to sell the use of seat belts in buses. The crash simulation took place just two weeks after the National Transportation Safety Board pushed the need for more safety features on buses.

Crash dummies the size of children and teens were placed inside the bus to show the difference in possible injuries depending on how they are secured.

The bus crashed into a wall at a speed of 25 miles per hour.

“If they are not belted, they are going to be in the aisle. They are going to flip over seats and hit heads,” said James Johnson, IMMI Vice President.

He continued. “It (the shoulder and lap belt) reduces injuries and fatalities by 50 percent.”

“I think parents need to see the video,” said Congresswoman Susan Brooks, R-District 5.

Brooks was in the audience as were several law enforcement agencies and NTSB officials among others.

Heritage Christian School invested in IMMI’s seat belts more than 10 years ago as part of a pilot program. The private school in Indianapolis has retrofitted some buses, and leased or purchased others as-is.

“Every school wants to put dollars towards kids in the classroom, and we’re the same way, but when it comes to safety ,we wouldn’t get into a car without putting our kids in a safety belt,” said Ed Ingle, a Heritage Christian School official.

Ingle said a traditional bus without seat belts is less expensive, but the school keeps investing in the alternative. They leased another bus this year.

“That cost was about $15,000 higher than a normal one was.”

A recent NTSB report called seat belts effective, added protections that can be especially important in severe, side impact crashes and rollovers.

The safety board is pressing for more widespread knowledge about the addition of seat belts across the United States, but it stopped short of kickstarting any new requirements.

“This is something we need to explore and think about,” said Congresswoman Brooks.

IMMI officials said the cost difference has been called the main obstacle for cash-strapped school districts. Still, the company has worked with several public school systems in Bartholomew and Tippecanoe Counties, among others.

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