Why Don’t All States Require Seat Belts on School Buses?

Seat Belts on School BusesEvery types of vehicle you ride in automatically has seat belts – except one, and you’ve probably wondered why. After all, wouldn’t you want seat belts in school buses? They’re literally designed to carry children.

And yet, there are no laws about Washington State school buses having safety harnesses or systems of any kind. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only eight US states currently require seat belts on school buses:

  1. Arkansas
  2. California
  3. Florida
  4. Louisiana
  5. Nevada
  6. New Jersey
  7. New York
  8. Texas

(Note: Iowa passed a rule in 2019 that all new school buses needed seatbelts, but old ones weren’t retrofitted.)

In 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that all 50 states require new school buses to have seat belts, however, many states failed to follow this recommendation.

Why didn’t the states follow the NTSB’s recommendations?

There are many reasons why states didn’t follow the NTSB’s recommendations, including:

  • School bus designs are safer: Many school bus designers argue that a key part of school bus design, compartmentalization – closely spaced seats and high, energy-absorbing seat backs – protects children in the event of an accident by reducing the force and impact. Therefore, it is believed that seat belts are not needed.
  • There are no federal laws requiring seat belts on school buses: There are no federal laws or mandates requiring seat belts on school buses, meaning states are not legally required to install seat belts on school buses.
  • It may be cost-prohibitive: New school buses are expensive, and retrofitting older buses can be expensive, too. Since there’s no real data that says seat belts would absolutely make school buses safer – and since school districts likely rely on property taxes for funding upgrades for buses – it’s possible that some states find the whole thing cost-prohibitive.
  • It’s easier to exit a bus in an emergency if no one is buckled up. In the event of an emergency, trying to unbuckle 54 children would be, in a word, mayhem.

We do want to point out that these rules about seat belts only apply to larger school buses. Smaller ones, like vans, do have seat belts installed.

Are school buses safe?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation commonly seen on the roadway. While school bus accidents do happen, the NHTSA states that, “less than 1 % of all traffic fatalities involve children on school transportation vehicles.” Approximately 61 children were killed while riding on a school bus from 2012 to 2021, which is significantly lower than any other type of fatal accident during the same period. According to the NHTSA, children are more in danger when they are walking to and from the school bus as other vehicles may not slow down or stop while they are crossing.

In the event of an accident, would school bus seat belts make a difference?

In most scenarios, no: wearing a seat belt would not make a difference in the event of a crash. Where seat belts could make a considerable difference is in the event of a rollover. The NTSB conducted research on seat belts in school buses and concluded they “may reduce rollover fatalities by 74 percent.”

As far as other fatalities or even injuries go, we believe that every little bit helps – but we don’t want you to worry if your child’s bus doesn’t have restraints or seat belts. We do want you to remind your children that they should always:

  • Remain seated on a moving bus at all times: You never know when a bus may have to come to a sudden stop, and kids are likely to be thrown off balance, which could lead to injuries.
  • Sit facing forward with their feet on the ground: Kneeling or lying down can increase the risk of an injury in the event of a crash.
  • Keep their backpack on their lap at all times: If they’re carrying multiple objects — like a backpack and, say, a school project — place the backpack on the floor of the bus under the seat in front of them (just like on a plane). Keep a foot on the strap of the backpack to hold it in place, but don’t wrap the strap around your feet or legs. In an emergency, this could impede their exit.
  • Walk around the front of the bus after they exit. They’ll be more visible to the bus driver and to other drivers if they walk around the front instead of crossing behind the bus.

Has your child suffered injuries in a school bus accident? Let Philbrook Law Office help! Our injury lawyers in Vancouver and Battle Ground, WA take these types of accidents very seriously and will fight for you and your child’s rights. Call our office or fill out our contact form to schedule a free case review to discuss the details of your child’s school bus accident and the injuries they sustained. Proudly serving Washington and the greater Portland, OR region.