Why Aren’t Seat Belts Required on School Buses in the United States?
The United States government, through the National Highway Traffic safety Administration (NHTSA), does not require seat belts on school buses weighing over 10,000 pounds. Federal law does require seat belts on lighter buses, but the seat belt decision for larger buses is left to the states.
Why wouldn’t the federal government require school buses to have seat belts? The simple answer is that they don’t need them. In a cost/benefit analysis, the cost of adding seat belts to school buses outweighs any potential benefits, according to NHTSA studies.
To date, only six states (California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) require seatbelts on school buses, and some of those states only require them on newer buses.
Modern school buses are large and heavy, and their passengers sit high off the ground. This means they are remarkably safe. Each year, over 400,000 public school buses carry almost 25 million children more than 4 billion miles.
The National safety Council concluded that school buses are 40 times safer than the average family car, making them the safest of all forms of ground transportation.
School bus seats have high backs and lots of cushioning. In addition, they’re packed together tightly to achieve compartmentalization. In the event of a crash, the seats absorb most of the impact, protecting the children who sit in them.
Not only would adding seat belts to school buses be costly, experts cannot agree on what type of seat belts should even be used. Because children tend to move around a lot, there’s no guarantee they would use seat belts, if installed, or use them properly.
Bus drivers certainly cannot be tasked with enforcing proper seat belt use, because their attention must remain focused on the task of driving.
Given that experts believe that adding seat belts to school buses would have very little, if any, impact on safety, most states have concluded that there’s simply not enough benefit to justify the cost of adding seat belts to school buses.
And the cost to do so is not insignificant. Experts estimate adding seat belts to all school buses could easily cost each state over $100 million. Experts also fear that adding seat belts to school buses would reduce overall bus capacity.
To the extent that fewer children can ride buses, they might be forced to seek other means of getting to and from school — means that have proven to be more dangerous than riding a school bus without seat belts.