Bus Seat Belts



This is one of the most frequent asked questions of school transportation officials.

Why aren't seat belts on school buses?

First you have to understand the concept of "compartmentalization." You may have noticed that school bus seats are spaced closely together. School bus seat are spaced together to contain the student in a cushioned compartment between energy absorbing surfaces. under the compartmentalization concept, seat backs in school buses are made high, wide, and thick.  All metal surfaces are covered with padding. The seat backs are constructed to absorb the energy of a child's body if it were thrown against the padded back. Additionally school bus seats have a steel inner structure that springs and bends forward or backward to help absorb energy when a child is thrown against it. Also, the seat is anchored to the floor strong enough to not to pull loose during this bending action.  Once compartmentalization has done its energy absorbing job, students are free to escape the school bus. Seat belts could leave students trapped upside downunconscious in a burning or flooded bus. Seat belts are not required because Department of Transportation (DOT), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other agencies have determined compartmentalization is the safest and most practical arrangement for school bus seating.


For additional information, try the NHSTA website listed below.


Key Safety Equipment Required on School Buses

Modern school buses (those manufactured after April 1, 1977) are equipped with more safety equipment than any other vehicle on the road. This is by design because safety regulators and state pupil transportation officials always err on the side of providing an extra margin of safety. The size of the school bus alone gives it an important advantage in all but the most catastrophic circumstances.

Key federal safety requirements include:

  • Special passenger crash protection. Well-padded, high back, energy-absorbing seats, as well as special requirements for wheelchair restraint systems. These seating systems provide "automatic protection" for young passengers. Additionally, school bus interiors are designed to reduce the chances of injury caused by sharp edges or body panels that may tear loose in a crash.
  • Better brakes. Brake systems that enable the school bus to stop in a shorter distance than other large vehicles.
  • Warning lights. Lights and reflective devices that indicate when the bus is loading and unloading passengers.
  • Special mirrors. Additional mirrors that allow the driver to see all areas directly in front of and along both sides of the school bus.
  • Swing out stop arms. A stop arm in newer buses that extends out to the left side of the bus to warn motorists when the bus is loading or unloading passengers.
  • Emergency exits. Several emergency exits.
  • Rollover protection. Rollover protection that reduces the likelihood of a roof collapse and allows for operable emergency exits even after the roof is subject to extreme forces.
  • Compartmentalization. A passenger compartment designed to reduce the chances of injury to occupants caused by sharp edges of body panels that may tear loose in a crash.
  • Fuel system protection. Protected fuel tanks, and fuel pump, fuel delivery system, emissions control lines and connections to protect against fuel spills in severe crashes.

New Federal Study Says Kids Are At Greatest Risk When They're NOT in School Buses

A long-awaited and much-anticipated report on school transportation safety, was released to the public on June 18, 2002 at 4:00 p.m. EDT.

The report, entitled "The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment", was released by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies for Science (NAS) which says, in summary, that children are at far more risk traveling to and from school in private passenger vehicles - especially if a teen-age driver is involved - than in school buses.

The report also indicates that bicycling and walking also place students at greater risk than traveling by school bus.

The report considered six transportation modes. In assessing buses, the committee looked at school buses as well as public transit buses and motor coach services. Passenger vehicles were divided into two categories: those driven by individuals 19 or older and those driven by operators under 19 years of age, mostly students. Data on pedestrians and bicyclists traveling to and from school also were examined.

The report shows that every year, about 800 school-age children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours (weekday mornings and afternoons during school months) accounting for about 14 percent of the 5,600 child deaths that occur on the nation's roadways. Of these 800 deaths, only about 2 percent are school-bus related, while 74 percent occur in private passenger vehicles and 22 percent are the result of pedestrian or bicycle accidents. More than half of all deaths of children between age 5 and 18 occur during normal school travel hours when a teen-ager is driving.

The dramatic difference in risk across transportation modes at the national level suggests that more can be done to manage and reduce those dangers, the committee said. School districts should facilitate travel by safer modes while working to improve others that are less safe. For example, walking and bicycling could be made safer by improving sidewalks and protection at street crossings as well as building more bike paths. A dialogue among parents, schools, and other relevant organizations also needs to be established, encouraging collaboration to promote safe practices for students using all modes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation sponsored the study. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under congressional charter.

How Are School Buses Regulated?

School buses are probably the most regulated segment of the transportation industry. That's probably due to the fact that they carry children, and parents care about their children.

The federal government only regulates the industry at the manufacturing level. Through a series of federal motor vehicle safety standards, Uncle Sam requires all school buses to be manufactured to stringent safety standards. But federal jurisdiction only prevails until the vehicle hits the road. Then it becomes a state responsibility. States nationwide have extensive school bus regulations, typically in their motor vehicle laws and also education laws. Again, no one knows for certain, but research by School Transportation News has uncovered more than 500 state laws governing school transportation.

In addition, school districts, as public entities, typically have extensive policies governing their school bus operations. These policies reflect both federal and state guidelines for school bus operation.