WCSD transportation department and Walnut Springs engineering students team up to create seat belt lock

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The Westerville City Schools transportation department needed to find a way to lock the buckle on a seat belt harness specifically used by special needs students after learning a student was able to unbuckle the belt and leave his seat on the bus.

The department has locks for regular seat belts but they were too small to fit over the five-point harness seat belt for special needs students. Carletta Swackhammer, assistant manager in the district’s transportation department, reached out to bus mechanic Joel Kellar for help. 

When Joel and fleet manager Shawn Dawson learned that none of their suppliers had guards for the harness seat belt, Kellar was able to create one using existing materials.

“I took the problem to him,” Swackhammer said. “The next day he came to me (with a solution.) He said, ‘I kept thinking of this and it was driving me crazy. I should be able to figure something out.’ And he did.”

Kellar attached two seat belt guards with a piece of metal that could fit over the harness’ seat belt. Dawson reached out to Anne Baldwin, career tech and college readiness coordinator, about having the district’s engineering teachers improve the design.

Bill Wetta, engineering teacher at Walnut Springs Middle School, and his eighth-grade students jumped at the opportunity. His students observed how the mechanisms of the harness worked and defined the problem. They brainstormed possible solutions and sketched out their ideas. They took measurements and created mock-ups of their ideas out of cardboard to test the feasibility of their design. 

He said the students took their most promising idea and created a prototype on our 3D software. They printed the prototype on a 3D printer and tested their design. The students then modified their design to improve fit and functionality, they printed five different versions and delivered their final product to the transportation department for their feedback.

Swackhammer received their design this week: a bright blue buckle guard with a tighter fit than Kellar’s design and a release key attached to a keychain.

“They perfected it,” he said. 

You can see a demonstration of the seat belt guard here.