School Bus Seat Belt Laws in the US

School Bus Seat Belt Law

Seat belts are legally required in some states. The seat belt laws in the US were introduced after horrifying incidents involving school bus accidents.

The National Highway Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that nearly six students die in school bus crashes every year in the US. From the years 2006 to 2015, more than 54 students have been killed in school-transportation vehicles. Though school bus drivers must complete comprehensive testing to drive a school bus, a lot of these fatalities could have been prevented if the school buses simply had seat belts.

To make the school buses safer, seat belts were made a legal requirement in some states. However, most states have not passed any legislation for mandatory seat belts on school buses. In this post, we will look at the type of seat bus belt laws in different states and what schools have done to conform to the legal requirements.

Federal School Bus Seat Belt Laws

The federal government has given the authority of setting safety standards for school buses to NHTSA. The agency previously considered seat belts to be unnecessary on large school buses. The seat belts were required only on small school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

The NHTSA had previously stated that seat belts would cost between $7,346 and $10,296. Moreover, adding seat belts will reduce the student capacity since thicker seats would be required to seat belts resulting in fewer seats per rows.

However, after a string of accidents involving school buses, the authority announced in 2015 that seat belts should be made mandatory in every school bus.

The NHTSA regulation 49 C.F.R. § 571.222 states that school bus seat belts can reduce the severity of injuries and fatalities due to a collision.

States School Bus Seat Belt Laws

School bus seat belts are required in eight states as of 2019. According to the National Conference of State Legislations, seat belts are currently legally required in eight states including Florida, California, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Nevada, Texas, and New York.

But if we look at the fine print of the seat belt legislation, it becomes clear that in most states the seat belts are required only if required funding is available to the school.

Also, students aren’t legally required to wear seatbelts in some states. For instance, in the state of New York, seatbelts are required on all buses made after July 1987. However, each school district needs to decide whether actually wearing the seatbelts is necessary.

In contrast, New Jersey law requires all students to wear seat belts. The school has to pay a penalty if students are not found wearing seat belts on school buses.

Lap Seat Belts and Shoulder Seat Belts

Not all states have the same requirements for seat belts. Some states require lap while others require lap and shoulder seat belts.

However, studies have shown that lap belts can result in injuries. Studies as early as the 1950s had documented the Seat Belt Syndrome whereby passengers wearing lap belt restraints suffered serious injuries after a traffic accident. The injuries included:

  • Fractures of the Lumber Spine

  • Severe Abdominal Injuries

  • Head injuries

The injuries occurred due to the body jackknifing at the wait over the lap belt in the event of a collision. Wearing the lap seat belt results in the high force applied to the waist region. Securing the lap region without securing the shoulder and head results in high neck and head velocities leading to serious injuries. These serious injuries can be prevented by wearing a three-point belt system.

At the present, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Louisiana require lap only seat belts. However, the NHTSA has recommended in 2018 that states should update the legislations by mandating three-point seat belts on all school buses.

Impediments in Seat Belt Laws in the US

Despite recommendations made by the NHTSA that all school buses should have seat belts, only a few states have passed laws requiring schools to have seat belts on all its buses.

The cost of buying large school buses with seat belts remain the main obstacle to adopting NHTSA seat belt law. For instance, a study by the University Transportation Center for Alabama had found that seat belts offered some protection. But the costs per bus for implementing seat belt range from $7,000 to $11,000 that makes it impractical.

The research study authors had opined that it would be better to invest the amount on other more economical safety measures.

Cost has been the major stumbling block even in states where seat bus laws have been passed. Texas, for instance, had made it mandatory in 2007 that all school buses purchased after September 2010 should have seat belts. But most buses lack this feature due to the high costs of implementation.

A fiscal analysis in Maryland had found that the local school would have to spend $23.7 million to implement seat belt laws recommended by NHTSA. And the cost was the reason that a bill in Connecticut for implementing seat belt was defeated.

State legislators worry about the cost of hiring monitors to ensure that all students are wearing seat belts. That’s why cash-strapped states have decided to take the easy way out and not pass laws requiring seat belt on school buses.

Final Remarks

Seat belts are deemed necessary by NHTSA. However, most states have not passed laws regarding the same mainly due to cost constraints.

Legislators argue that the benefits of implementing the law do not justify the costs. They argue that money would be better spent on implementing other safety measures such as a camera that would catch drivers who illegally pass a bus when it has stopped to pick up or drop off children.

If someone has been injured in a School or Municipal Bus accident, you need to contact an experienced bus accident attorney. A professional accident lawyer will look at the school bus seat belt laws to determine the liability of the accident. Getting the help of an accident lawyer will increase the chances of getting compensation from the guilty parties.