What started this journey?
On March 27, 1996, a chartered bus traveling in India from Delhi to Agra overturned on a treacherous road. This bus transporting students participating in the Semester at Sea Study Abroad Program resulted in critical injury to 3 students and death of 2 tour guides, one program chaperone, and 4 female students including Sara Christie Schewe, a junior at Georgetown University. To meet the goal of saving lives, Sara’s parents created Sara’s Wish Foundation [SWF], a non-profit 501 [c]3 organization. SWF’s objectives are to enhance travel safety and honor Sara’s memory by providing monetary awards to women [150+ to date] committed to conducting humanitarian public services. As part of improving road and travel safety, Sara’s Wish Foundation has developed a portable seatbelt.
What are the objectives for the portable seatbelt?
The goal of the portable seatbelt is simply to save lives around the world. The seatbelt is transportable (lightweight, strong fabric materials, small in size), convenient (easy to use, versatile to various vehicles), functional (restrains in all directions, 5-point harness and lap belt), and will be aesthetic (stylish, appealing, added cushioning). Originally intended as a piece of equipment that could be taken anywhere globally, the recent focus has been on retrofitting existing American motor coaches. This portable seatbelt is far less expensive alternative to retrofitting existing buses with new seating with seatbelts.
What is the status today?
The portable seatbelt is very near technical completion. It has been crash tested at The Engineering Institute in Arkansas under the direction of Dr. Chandra Thorbole. It is proven to work in both front and rear crashes, as well as restrain occupants to their seats. Some additional design work is necessary to eradicate lateral movement. Sara’s Wish Foundation and the University of Massachusetts have a utility patent for this design.
Sara’s Wish Foundation has a wide network of industry, governmental, organizational, and supportive contacts. These include, but are not limited to, Dr. Chandra Thorbole [noted above], a vehicular kinetics specialist, Dr. Sundar Krishnamurty, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Larry Schneider of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Cathy Silberman and Rochelle Sobel from the Association of Safety for International Road Travel, Roger Saul and Sashi Kuppa at the Department of Transportation, Kathryn Higgins, Congresswoman and member of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mr. John Betts, Motor Coach Safety Advocate, and Mr. Ronal Medford, Acting Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, April Mims and Jacqueline Gillan of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety…among many others.
What are the next steps?
Immediate action focuses on finalization of the design of the seatbelt restraint system, investigation of bulk buyers as well as end consumers, enhancement of the network of contacts, and advocacy for road safety to align current legislation with the availability of our product. Given the still pending legislation [S. 554, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009, as passed by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee], we are looking at the best options to manufacture and distribute this product. The focus of this legislation is to mandate that all new motor coaches going forward will have to have seatbelts. This leaves 35,000 existing motor coaches at this time on the road without seatbelts. The expectation is that motor coach operators also may well have to retrofit these buses with seatbelts. Sara’s Wish Foundation’s portable seatbelt could affordably address the idea of safely retrofitting motor coaches and ultimately saving lives.