Students Show Restraint Could Cut School Bus Injuries

Engineering Undergrads Devise System To Protect Children Without Seat Belts

Inspired by the safety equipment in roller coaster cars, two mechanical engineering undergraduates at The Johns Hopkins University have invented a restraining bar system that would protect children in school buses during head-on collisions or rollover accidents.

Using a $30,000 crash test dummy and two seats borrowed from an actual school bus, 22-year-old seniors Stephen Pantano, of Cranston, R.I., and William Thompson, of Newtown, Pa., recently tested the device in a university lab by simulating a 15-mph head-on crash. The bus seats, anchored to a wooden platform, were hoisted about 7 feet off the lab's concrete floor. The platform was then dropped, with the crash dummy, borrowed from the university's Applied Physics Laboratory, seated behind the students' heavily padded lap bar. The dummy was wired to an accelerometer that measured the impact to the head during the crash.

Although further analysis and tests are needed, the undergraduates and their faculty advisors were pleased by the results of the simulated crash. "The bar didn't collapse, and it kept the dummy in the seat exactly where you want it," said Pantano. "We covered the bar with three layers of foam padding, which helped spread out the force of the crash."

Resembling the systems found in some amusement park rides, the students' restraining bar would be bolted to the floor of a school bus. After the children were seated, the bar would pivot down to a locking position in their laps. The bar features a simple manual-release lever, so children would have no trouble leaving their seats at a bus stop or during an emergency. Its inventors say the device could easily be installed in existing school buses.

The school bus safety system was one of 12 Johns Hopkins projects completed this year by undergraduate teams in the university's Whiting School of Engineering'

Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University

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