Why Don’t School Buses Have Seatbelts?

Many people remember – though never questioned as children – the lack of seatbelts in school buses. Though as children we might have reveled in the freedom of being able to switch seats while the bus driver wasn’t looking, as adults we might look back and wonder why this was allowed. Why have school buses never used seatbelts, and is this safe?

Intranational Seatbelt Laws

Seatbelt laws are extremely straightforward when entering a passenger car in that all riders must wear one under nearly all circumstances. Seatbelts prevent ejection and crushing during accidents, saving lives in the way that a helmet prevents serious injuries from becoming fatal. In most states, seatbelts aren’t a mandatory part of the bus-riding experience.

Currently, six states have passed a form of legislature that requires school buses to utilize seat belts: California, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and New York. California is the only one of these six states that now requires all newly manufactured buses to possess shoulder belts and lap belts. Louisiana and Texas are trying to follow suit, but funding remains an issue for these states in passing their legislature. Meanwhile, Florida, New Jersey, and New York only require a simple lap belt.

Other states are currently pushing to introduce seatbelts into their school bus systems. However, this only applies to new buses. Old buses are hard to fit with seatbelts because it involves replacing other bus components, such as seat frames, at the same time.

School Bus Statistics

School buses travel roughly four billion miles every year, transporting over 23 million school-aged children within their metal walls. Though school buses do not have seat belts, fatal school bus accidents are extremely rare. Though severe school bus-related accidents receive a lot of publicity when they do occur, their incidence is extremely low.

In fact, the dangerous aspect of riding a school bus comes mainly from context. For example, some states that require buses to travel over dangerous overpasses to reach their destination (like Texas) understandably encourage legislation that would establish stricter seat belt requirements.

However, this does not reflect driving conditions for all school buses. Many buses can collide with other vehicles or objects and keep their students safe at the same time.

Why Don’t School Buses Have Seatbelts?

  • Compartmentalization – One of the first reasons why school buses don’t have seat belts involves the concept of compartmentalization. School buses are not designed in the same way that passenger vehicles are. The American School Bus Council equates school buses to egg cartons. Each student is surrounded by padding with structural integrity that secures them when accidents occur. This is due in part to the weight and size of school buses, which distribute impact differently than passenger cars do.
  • Cost – With this knowledge at hand, it isn’t hard to see why certain states have such a hard time prioritizing school bus seat belts when allocating funds to different projects. It costs between $8,000 and $12,000 more per bus to include seat belt systems, which is a hefty price to pay for a feature that is not truly necessary. Adding seatbelts also decreases the seating capacity of each bus, meaning more money must be allocated to introducing more buses into the system.

Though it seems counterintuitive at first, school buses do not need seat belts to be safe for children to travel in. With studies conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration confirming this sentiment, worried parents need not worry about whether their child’s safety is at increased risk during transit to-and-from school.