Are School Buses Really the Safest Vehicles on the Road?

Picture of front of school bus

Over the last month or so, children around the country have sustained injuries or have been killed in school bus crashes. Last month, we posted a blog about the risks involved when boarding a school bus. However, in the event that a school bus crashes with another vehicle or entity, how well are children protected?

What are the Federal School Bus Safety Requirements?

All passenger vehicles require three-point seat belts under federal law. School buses less than 10,000 pounds must have three-point seatbelts. A three-point seatbelt is composed of a lap belt and a shoulder belt. In the event of collision, a three-point seatbelt will keep a passenger from flying out of their seat.

However, existing regulations do not require seatbelts on school buses weighing more than 10,000 pounds. Each state has their own regulations, but only eight states require any type of seatbelt in school buses heavier than 10,000 pounds. Only California, Texas and New Jersey require three-point seat belts.

Why is it not a requirement to have seatbelts in larger school buses? Seatbelts in larger school buses have been viewed as unnecessary due to a special design called compartmentalization. Compartmentalization involves using closely-packed seats that are bolted to the ground. The seatbacks are tall and padded and they absorb impact energy to protect passengers.

In addition, school buses have a steel construction to reinforce the sides and roof of the bus from collapsing during a side-collision or rollover. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) admits, though, that compartmentalization cannot prevent injuries in certain crashes and has recommended three-point seat belts on school buses.

In a head-on collision, side-collision or rollover, children could be launched out of their seats or even ejected from the bus. If a child is launched from their seat, the bus’s compartmentalization technology becomes irrelevant.

What are California’s School Bus Safety Requirements?

California is one of the few states that require three-point seat belts in all school buses purchased after July 2005. However, even California will not see consistent school bus seatbelt safety until 2035.

Assembly Bill 1798 (AB 1798), signed in August 2018 by Governor Jerry Brown, will require every California school bus to have three-point seat belts by July 2035.

Children are required to be taught how and when to wear a seatbelt on a school bus. However, California law does not hold school districts or bus drivers criminally liable for lack of seatbelt enforcement.

Need a San Diego Personal Injury Attorney?

If your child has been injured or killed in a car accident caused by the negligence of another person, we recommend that you contact our personal injury attorneys at Traffic Accident Law Center. We have more than 35 years of combined experience advocating for traffic accident victims and their families. Call us at (760)798-7000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.