Would Seat Belts on School Buses Save Lives?

 In School Bus

The horrific November 2016 bus crash that shattered families and shocked the public in Chattanooga has reignited the discussion about whether federal law should require seat belts on school buses nationwide. Although six states (California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) currently require seat belts on all school buses, the vast majority of the country has no similar regulation in place.

While advocacy organizations like the National Coalition for School Bus Safety have called for a federal mandate to install seat belts in buses for years, school bus manufacturers and some lawmakers continue to resist this idea, arguing that school bus seat belts won’t provide enough safety benefit to justify the cost of installing them.

A Controversy Over the Need for School Bus Seat Belts?

The issue of whether school buses need seat belts has sparked plenty of debate among safety experts, school bus manufacturers, and lawmakers. For years, school bus manufacturers argued against mandatory seat belts by pointing to reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — the federal agency tasked with reducing harm from vehicle crashes — which suggested that existing school bus safety measures provided enough injury and fatality protection for children.

In 2002, for example, the NHTSA released a report praising the effectiveness of the school bus safety measure known as “compartmentalization,” which is a method of school bus design that aims to improve crash safety and prevent injuries by adjusting seat height and spacing, among other things.

School bus manufacturers have long contended that compartmentalization already renders school buses so safe that seat belts won’t create enough additional benefits to make the cost of installing them (between $5,485 and $7,346 per bus, according to the NHTSA) worthwhile. The 2002 NHTSA report fueled this argument and played a role in lawmakers’ decisions in 2007 and 2011 to reject proposed seat-belt requirements for school buses.

RELATED: Will Morgan Adams Take My Case?

A 1999 study from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), however, concluded that compartmentalization offers very little protection in the event of a side impact or rollover crash (like the one that occurred in Chattanooga). In addition, the NHTSA’s own research indicates that three-point seat belts (those that include both a lap and shoulder belt) have reduced injuries and fatalities by at least 45% in every type of vehicle in which they have ever been introduced.

NHTSA Shift Signals a Sea Change for School Bus Seat Belts

In recent years, the NHTSA has started to shift its position on school bus seat belts. In November 2015, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind told a public meeting of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) that his agency would begin taking measures to move toward nationwide installation of three-point seat belts on all school buses.

“[The] NHTSA has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses. So let me clear up any ambiguity now: The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives,” Rosekind said in the statement. “That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus.”

Rosekind also added that he thought the NHTSA statement should be viewed as “utterly non-controversial.”

“How can we not want every child who rides a school bus to have the total safety afforded by three-point belts?” he asked.

Although the NHTSA is not yet proposing any federal rules that would mandate seat belt installation on buses, Rosekind said the agency will continue gathering school bus safety data, and he added that the NHTSA will also speak with governors of the six states that require some form of school-bus seat belts to try and establish best practices for a nationwide rollout of similar laws.

Later that month, Rosekind told ABC News that even though the agency isn’t yet advancing a federal mandate on the issue, bus manufacturers can and should take measures to stay ahead of future safety regulations.

“They don’t need a rule from Washington to start putting three-point belts on buses today,” Rosekind said.

Call Morgan Adams If Your Child Has Suffered in a School Bus Accident

At Truck Wreck Justice, we have seen too many children injured or even killed in school bus crashes already, with the devastating events in Chattanooga providing only the most recent, prominent example. As a result, we support the immediate adoption of three-point seat belts on school buses nationwide. The cost of installing these simple life-saving devices amounts to nothing next to the suffering and loss that families face when the unthinkable happens and their child suffers life-altering or even life-ending injuries in a school bus crash.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a large truck or bus crash, please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form to speak with a school bus accident attorney during a free, no-risk initial consultation. Our firm has years of experience and a track record of success handling complex truck and bus accident cases, and our founding attorney Morgan Adams dedicates his practice entirely to advocating for victims in these types of crashes.

We also handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you won’t pay fees and case expenses unless we achieve a monetary award or settlement on your behalf. If your family is suffering the wake of a school bus crash, please don’t wait. Call our offices today.


Bigelow, P. (2015, November 10). NHTSA reverses course, now wants seat belts on school buses. Autoblog. Retrieved from http://www.autoblog.com/2015/11/10/seat-belts-school-buses-nhtsa-safety-parenting/

Here’s the hard facts about seat belts on school buses. [Infographic]. (2013). SafeGuard Seating. Retrieved from http://www.safeguardseat.com/heres-the-hard-facts-about-seat-belts-on-school-buses-infographic/

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