Seat Belts on School Buses

Parents’ number one concern for their children is safety. As such, the question often arises about the presence of seat belts on school busses. This topic has been debated, researched and reviewed extensively. The following Q&A section will outline some of this research and compare the compartmentalization model with various seat belt models.

What makes a school bus different from other vehicles?

  • School buses have been specifically designed and equipped to carry students.
  • These vehicles are built with very high safety standards which are established by Transport Canada and the Canadian Standards Association.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador has adopted these standards for all school buses operating in the province.
  • Considering the size of a school bus, students are protected by a lower impact zone.
  • School buses are designed with safety in mind. Students sit above the impact zone where an automobile would typically hit a school bus.
  • The “G” forces exhibited on the passengers of a large school bus (over 4500kg) are in the range of 3 to 8 G’s at 50 km per hour while in a family minivan the “G” forces could exceed 30 G’s.

Why is the present school bus design considered safe?

  • School buses have a passive crash protection system known as compartmentalization. Transport Canada have conducted studies and advised that compartmentalized seating provides ideal safety conditions for school buses over seat belts.
  • School bus seats are high, closely spaced and well padded; this allows the seats to absorb the energy of an impact if a child is thrown against the padded back.
  • Windows are small to prevent students from being thrown from buses.
  • The interior is a smooth rounded shell, free from sharp edges.
  • The concept of compartmentalization has been incorporated into the manufacturing of school buses and has been determined to be safer than any other form of restraint device currently available.
  • It allows for a better distribution of energy in the event of an impact.
  • School buses are required to have increased body strength by the provision of horizontal full length impact rails located at the shoulder, cushion, floor levels and lower shirt levels.
  • The school bus body is also intended to slide forward on the chassis frame rails, up to 12 inches, to absorb the energy of a collision.
  • School buses throughout Newfoundland and Labrador are held to extremely high safety standard, and are subject to rigorous inspection requirements.
  • Stronger enforcement measures introduced in 2016 have led to a pass rating of 92.5 per cent for school bus inspections in the province (up from 84.4% in 2016). Enforcement officers inspect the entire fleet in the fall, and a minimum of 30 per cent of the fleet in the spring.

Have seat belts been considered?

  • Yes.
  • Transport Canada continues to research this issue and may develop recommendations or requirements for seat belts in the future, at which time Newfoundland and Labrador would review its current position.
  • Over the years, Transport Canada has conducted research and simulated crash tests with school buses to evaluate and measure crash forces and the movement of passengers to determine the probable severity of injuries in the event of an accident. While the findings were not conclusive, they have noted that, in some situations, seat belts could actually place students at risk.
  • The installation of a lap belt or a two point restraint system could cause potential hazards, such as neck and facial injury.
  • With the restraint at the hip, the head and the face (and not the whole body), would absorb the impact and increase the likelihood of neck and facial injuries.
  • The present school bus design is not intended or equipped to receive the three-point seat belt, which has the shoulder as the three point restraint.
  • Investigation has showed that the three point seat belt would require stiffer seats, which could cause injury to unbelted students.
  • The shoulder belts increase the chance of abdominal injuries to children because of submarining. Tests show children could slip down, risking injuries to organs covered by the lap belts.

Do other jurisdictions have seat belts on school buses?

  • Based upon evidence currently available no Canadian jurisdictions require seat belts on school buses.

Are seat belts not used due to the costs involved?

  • No. If it is determined by Federal regulators that seat belts are safer, they will be used. This decision must be based on data and research and not on emotion and supposition.
  • School buses in the province are built with very high safety standards established by Transport Canada and the Canadian Standards Association. The province relies on the recommendations and requirements put forth by these entities to determine the minimum standard of school buses being used in the province. If the recommendation is to have seat belts on buses, then the Province will be prepared to comply as required..

What does the future hold for school busing?

  • Transport Canada have announced in October 2018 they are reviewing their previous recommendations and findings, and the Province will be prepared to amend or adopt as required.
  • The school buses that are operated in our province are consistently inspected to meet the highest standards in the industry.
  • The Highway Traffic Act is amended on a regular basis in order to keep pace with safety issues and regular inspections and corrective measures are major components of school bus inspections.
  • Decisions made by government on bus safety will be informed by research and will involve in-depth dialogue with federal, provincial and territorial counterparts, school district officials and private bus operators.
  • Safety of children while traveling on the school bus is enhanced by the training that drivers receive and their dedication to providing a safe environment for their passengers.
  • Officials in the Atlantic Provinces through the School Bus Bulk Purchase Committee continue to monitor and improve the school bus specifications for buses which we purchase; and co-operate in matters relating to the school bus industry in general.