Are parents mandating seat belts for school buses?

By not standardizing this safety device decades ago, seat belts installed on school buses were long considered a curiosity, novelty, deluxe, or custom safety device only rich school districts could afford. Had these safety devices been standard equipment they would have interested the mass production market and brought the resulting savings to school bus consumers nationwide.

By James Kraemer

Free School Bus Photos
In 2002 at the Greensboro, N.C., Annual Conference and Trade Show, Charlie Gauthier, executive director of NASDPTS (at that time) argued that the public strongly supports the addition of lap/shoulder belt systems in school buses.

''You can't win this, folks,'' he said. ''Put some clear glasses on and look at the information. Liability concerns need to be considered. If a child is killed on a school bus without a lap/shoulder belt system, the risk to the transportation provider is high. I would suggest you talk to your risk manager about that,'' he said in a Dec. (2002) School Bus Fleet magazine story, ''State Directors Grapple With Tough National Issues.'

Regardless of industry and government agency delays, we are on the threshold of a new industry standard because of the increasing popularity for this safety device from parents and school districts no longer willing to wait on NHTSA to do what ought to have been done decades ago.

School bus consumer popularity has effected interest from mass producers and bus manufacture’s offering a variety of options, version creativity, and approaching lower costs from increased production and other factors.

This is the most positive sign that the seat belt issue is ending. Our nation's school bus industry is experiencing a déjà vu, reminiscent of the same popularity issue involving automobiles in the 1950's.

Photo: 1948 Tucker car
In 1952, on the basis of an in-depth study of car crashes, the Colorado State Medical Society adopted a resolution to "implore" auto manufacturers to provide consumers with safety belts [2-points] and other protective features. The following year, the American Medical Association voted to urge that "motorcar manufacturers of America [equip] all automobiles with safety belts and, furthermore, that they give increasing emphasis to safety in design of all automobiles." (Source ~ NOVA)

Although Tucker cars first introduced seat belts as standard equipment in 1948, Tucker Corp. only built 51 cars before going out of business. Seat belts didn’t carry much interest among other U.S. manufactures.

GM's styling vice-president was not impressed with seat belts, "This just encourages the nuts,” and coined the term, "the seat-belt crazeu." (~ Jeffrey O'Connell and Arthur Myers, Safety Last: An Indictment of the Auto Industry, New York: Random House, 1966.)

The Automobile Manufacturers Association, [later changed their name to the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association (MVMA)], and its members resisted proposals for inclusion of safety belts in cars; the association's committee for vehicle safety, chaired by a General Motors "safety engineer," concluded that "seat belts are not essential for safe driving." (~ NOVA)

Hugh DeHaven invented the art and science of crash investigation. He was a relentless fanatic whose gospel was, "These are not acts of God, they are failures of machinery and negligence and failures of people."

It was not until Hugh DeHaven's studies and his relentless advocacy of seat belts that auto makers finally began to offer them in cars in 1955 - not as standard equipment, but as an option called lap belts, or two-point belts. They were an important improvement in safety.

Automobile safety came slowly, and at the expense of tens of thousands of lives every year and injuring millions. It took 16 years after accidental discovery by Edouard Benedictus to get the first safety glass installed in cars. The first padded dash was offered in the 1937 Dodge after inventor Claire L. Straith tried for years to market his invention. The pad was an improvement but it had little influence on the auto industry as a whole. The industry first ignored, then eventually formed trade associations to fight various safety features common in cars these days. (~ Source: Various)

Nils Bohlin holds the patent for the single most effective safety device in any vehicle - the 3-point lap/shoulder belt. First installed in the 1959 Volvo, it took more than a decade for three-point seat belts to be required in American cars. (~ NOVA, PBS Airdate: February 16, 1999)

Ford's "Life Guard" design included seat belts but didn’t sell very well the first time introduced to consumers, and regardless of the millions spent promoting their safer cars. A later attempt offering the device as an option worked. Seat belts were suddenly popular. The notable increase in Ford sales after successfully offering the safety device forced other American auto manufactures to offer the device.

In 1964 Pontiac made lap belts standard equipment, and in 1968 seat belts were made mandatory in all new cars sold in the United States. (~ Wiki Answers)

The National Coalition for School Bus Safety (NCSBS) Fact Summary presents this thought: ''If society believes seat belts are desirable and necessary, then it's a grave oversight for schools not to offer our children that choice.''

Jim Ellis, in his STN article, ‘Stirring the Pot: Showing No Restraint for Lap/Shoulder Belt Opponents,’ he mentions, “First, I think lap/shoulder belts will reduce passenger injuries by "keeping passengers in their seats," as NHTSA put it. (I chuckle when I hear people refer to compartmentalization as a "passive" restraint system - evidently, they haven't ridden on a loaded school bus for a while. Keeping kids in the compartments is hardly a passive task, [says Ellis].)"

Compartmentalization is not complete without seat belts and use enforced. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s "Series 1 and Series 2 "School Bus Passenger Protection" collision tests conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles, UCLA researchers concluded that after high back seats, next in importance to school bus passenger collision safety is the "use of a three-point belt, a lap belt or other form of effective restraint." ~ SBF Magazine   

Decades later the NHTSA admitted to the need and now require higher back seats. Few know that 3-point lap belts are an additional option NHTSA recommends.

The original UCLA engineers may have been right all along. So few are aware of that the school bus compartmentalization design promoted by the industry for decades was not that of the orginal engineers, but what school principals, industry lobbists, and politicians came up with to lower costs.

Blocking this safety device requirement, is said, "... was due to the intense pressure applied by the NSTA Board of Directors, working in concert with public school officials:

“NSTA wishes to say thanks to all of you for your help, letters, telegrams, trips to Washington again and again and again. This effort will save every purchaser of school buses over $300 per bus." (NSTA Newsletter, Feb. 1976). Source ~ Dr. Stephen A. Langford, Ph.D                 

Medical and auto safety associations and parent groups are again getting done what NHTSA refused to do. In 'not mandated' states school districts are installing belts on their school buses to the point that a federal mandate is becoming irrelevant, other than an eventual housekeeping rule to standardize a new nationwide school bus safety standard.

Medical associations have called for seat belts on the school buses soon after their requirement in autombiles decades ago. These are the people that treat injured kids after a crash and see the effects when no seat belts installed on a school bus.

Acording to a story in the Kiama Independent/Lake Times, Professor Danny Cass, the Westmead Children’s Hospital trauma head, views the absence of seatbelts on rural and regional school buses as a “disaster waiting to happen”. Preventing just one brain or spinal injury caused by a school bus crash would save the community up to $15 million, the senior surgeon believes.

He estimated the lifelong treatment of a person stricken with a severe spinal injury – a likely injury in vehicle accidents were passengers are unrestrained – was between $13 million and $15 million. By comparison, the federal government has spent just $3 million over the past four years encouraging private bus companies to voluntarily install the lifesaving devices. ~ Kiama Independent/Lake Times 

Most have heard all the fears and scares about belts on the big school buses over the decades. What are the actual benefits that can be realized when installed and where use is enforced?

Where belts were installed on my bus found them very effective:

__Keeping riders in their seats.

__Reducing a hostile bus environment.

__Reducing bus driver distraction.

__Reducing injuries during the normal operation of the school bus.

__Reducing ejection from the school bus.

__ Limiting possible contacts with the interior of the passenger compartment and significantly reducing the risk of compressive neck injury in rollover crashes. (~ TRB Special Report No. 222, page 62, 63.)

__Where use is required help eliminate overcrowding.

__Help educate children to buckle-up no matter what vehicle riding in.

__Ease parents concerns.

Oh, and this: __And help save lives!

Seat belts do More Good than harm

"Seat belts do more good than harm," is the actual quote from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Special Report No. 222, Seat Belts on School Buses, A Review of Issues and Research.

The Transportation Research Board Special Report 222, concluded that a 50 percent lap belt usage rate may have reduced deaths and injuries by up to 20 percent. In addition, the committee also concluded:

''The potential benefit to be realized from the use of seat belts in school buses is somewhat less than the benefit afforded rear-seat occupants in passenger cars because the greater mass and safer operating conditions of school buses reduce the initial risk of death of and injury to school bus occupants. On the other hand fewer belt-induced injuries can be expected to the abdomen of children using properly adjusted seat belts on firm school bus seats, as compared with the softer seats in passenger cars, because of better belt fit and the reduced potential for submarining.'' (~ Source NCSBS)

STN Seat Belt Survey
My primary concern was my bus and the buses my grandchildren ride. Seat belts worked well for me in the buses where I had them available. After discovering their benefits, requested the safety devices the latter two decades driving school bus accident free. No question in my mind the many benefits that seat belts can offer where use is enforced, even during the normal operation of the school bus.

One of the strangest complaints concerning belts on the school buses are claims the kids will not wear them. This claim can not be answered before determining who is in charge of the bus environments at a specific facility. Where the kids are in charge anything goes, which of course, would include not wearing the safety device.

Reporters often present the states that mandate seat belts on their school buses. Few reporters are aware that somehow hundreds of school districts with thousands of school buses in not mandated states do have seat belts installed. These states include communities in: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Five states - New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Florida and California require lap or three-point shoulder belts on their big school buses.

STN Seat Belt Survey
 Texas passed into law requiring seat belts installed on their school buses by 2010, allowing delays for some districts, then eventually removed funding for the program.

Where the grant money went before moving the money to other programs:

• Dallas County Schools - $250,276
• Austin ISD -                    $95,550
• South Texas ISD -          $63,380
• Pettus ISD -                    $7,376
• Total - $416,582

Ironically, that total was nearly as much as the amount appropriated by the Legislature to the Texas Transportation Institute - $400,000 - to conduct a feasibility study on the safest and most cost-effective way to implement the program. (~ Fewer dollars for school bus seat belts: Program to save lives was unfunded to save money.)

The Texas Education Agency never notified the other districts that they would not receive the money or why. Some districts KXAN spoke with were unaware their paperwork was “incomplete,” saying they would have appreciated TEA notifying them in order to submit remaining, necessary documents – and possibly receive funding. TEA has no record of any such notification.

Dallas County Schools began equipping its buses with lap-shoulder belts for passengers in 2009.  But they haven't limited the belts to new buses — they've taken the rare step of retrofitting older buses, which entails replacing the seats entirely.

Safeguard's latest seat belt initiative is equipping all new Greyhound buses with lap-and shoulder-belted seats. The recent integration of this seating system in motor-coaches is evidence of a massive movement toward lap and shoulder belts made voluntarily, often with no legislation and no requirements.

There have been endless arguments over what is the safest mode of travel. So much depends on how the statistics are compiled and sorted. School buses are one of the safest forms of transportation on the road, but the battle over who is number one in safety continues mostly between commercial carrier buses and school buses.

Greyhound began installing seat belts on their buses about three or so years ago, which may have moved their fleet to the top position concerning the safest buses on the roads.

At the Greyhound Website: "The new Greyhound has been redesigned to ensure the safest ride for our passengers, from large adults to small infants. We've voluntarily equipped each seat with a comfortable three-point safety harness with shoulder-height adjusters. Plus, our new LATCH system can fasten your child's car seat as easily and securely to your seat as you can in your own car."

According to a Fox 49 News story, “A transportation research board determined traveling to school by school bus is second only to commercial bus travel in passenger safety.” (~ Fox 49 News, March 12, 2012, Fatal bus accident reignites seat belt debate.)

The safest ride to and from school may be on a Greyhound bus.

Arguing over this issue ends in court. Very simple rule: No belts on the bus: Do Not Crash That Bus!

Seat-Belt Sign
Photo Source:

NOTE: Keep in mind this article source refers to cars, not school buses.

The 'seat-belt sign’ is a continuous area of erythema, ecchymosis, or contusion caused by seat-belt pressure during a vehicle collision or impact. Apparently, it happens in car crashes about 19-percent of the time when buckled, and 14-percent of the time when not buckled. Regardless, the effect could happen in an intense crash on a school bus. Seat-belt sign is an injury far better to sustain than when ejected and a child’s body is crushed by the bus, and the other horrific outcomes, including permanent lifelong injuries when belts were not in use. This sort of abdominal injury is repairable when found. Damage to organs is not prevalent. Seat belts can cause some injuries, minor compared to what can happen in intense crashes without their use. (~ Seat-Belt Sign source: American College of Emergency Physicians)

My opinion is that parent safety groups, auto safety and medical associations, and the increasing liability issues are getting done what NHTSA has repeatedly failed to do. Myself, not demanding a federal law until done as a housekeeping rule for a new school bus safety standard. That time is fast at hand.

Until the standard is updated would simply like the value of seat belts on school buses acknowledged from government/industry interests and their lobbyists, starting with the correct quote: "Seat belts do more good than harm."

There is some evidence that supports the 2-point lap belts are not as effective as 3-points, but remain a better choice than nothing.

There is no reason really that states can not provide typical reimbursement within their standard for other school bus transportation reimbursements, at least for lap belts. And an equivalent reimbursement limited to lap belts maximum funding could apply as assistance when a school chooses 3-points, or Flexseats.


Additional References, including Media Contacts in favor of seat belts

A few interesting comments from Facebook, and my response

Wow! Rather sophisticated expectations ... not likely to happen. The battle is over, belts are on the way. As far as kindergartners, my experience is they are faster than I ever was at buckling and unbuckling, even helping other kinders buckle and unbuckle and at adjusting the device. They also help enforce use, alerting the bus driver to any violators, at least that was my experience. Myself, 4-points, 3-points, 2-points, Flexseats, or whatever is not the issue. Can even tolerate no seat belts on other community's buses when riders are trained to sit as though wearing one, except do want them on the buses my grandkids ride. Otherwise, each to their own devices. I’m not out to save the world, just one child’s life. Don't want them, fine -- as long as my grandkids have them available. No real issue for me where some seats are equipped and some not. In the case of belts installed, want use required and immediate escort off the bus covering the defiant is my issue, belts or no belts. Thanks for posting, glad you took the time to present your concerns.

Additional References

Fact vs. Fiction - As districts seek answers to the belts on buses issue, many of the same questions come up time and again. Getting the truth out about the benefits, both in safety and behavior, has been a challenge with many myths refusing to go away.

NTSB Georgia/Tenneessee Train/School Bus Crash Report - Contributing to the injuries of the school bus passengers outside of the area of intrusion were incomplete compartmentalization and a lack of energy-absorbing material on interior surfaces. (When the NTSB  refers to incomplete compartmentalization can mean to include lack of seat belts.)

School Bus Seat belts Investigation: Part 1 | Part 11 | Part 111

One School District's Experience with Lap-Shoulder Belts

Seat Belts on School Buses -- Buffalo Schools Experience

Galesburg controversy raises question: How do you handle unruly kid on a school bus? - Security cameras, assigned seating and seat-belts can create a calmer environment. Assigned seating allows drivers to separate kids prone to fighting or roughhousing with each other; seat belts helps keep kits in their seats. Security cameras -- a strategy adopted by Kalamazoo Public Schools -- helps document misbehavior, which can be useful when students or parents question the word of a transportation worker.

Seat Belts on School Buses: Why the Law Should Change, by Ann Marie Dwyer, Yahoo! Contributor Network - Until the parents demand that the law be changed regardless of the profit margin, child safety will take the proverbial backseat in state legislatures.

Greens urge bus seatbelts after NSW crash - Australia -- On Tuesday, NSW Greens MP and transport spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann said she was seeking government support to pass her bill requiring school buses to be fitted with seatbelts. She said it was reported the boy had been thrown through a window upon impact. "This is a shocking thing to hear and highlights the urgent need for seatbelts to be mandatory on school buses." "All states except NSW and Victoria have made seatbelts on school buses mandatory - usually after a serious bus accident.

No-seatbelt school buses a death trap -  "All school buses should be fitted with seatbelts, it should be a priority," Ms Nelligan said. "A school bus accident would be your worst nightmare. "They should speed up the upgrade process of country buses to include seatbelts and airconditioning." Ms Nelligan said some school parents were told 18 months ago that they would be getting a new school bus "but we haven't seen one yet".

Better Behavior is Just a Click Away - Industry ad promotes that lap and shoulder belts keep children safer on the bus, but the benefits don't stop there. Adding seat belts can improve behavior, curb bullying, and reduce driver distraction according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Suggested Bid Language -- When it's time to convert seating on your bus, simply include the following:

"All seats shall meet applicable FMVSS requirements and seat frames shall be capable for installation of Type 2 belts and Integrated Child Safety Restraint Systems. Conversion of seats to these options shall not require the removal of the seat from the bus floor and will re-use the base frame of the standard seat."

STN Magazine - Compartmentalization, Including history of seat belts.
PBS NOVA - Car Crash: While today's cars are safer than they've ever been, automobile safety has come slowly and at the expense of millions of lives. Car Crash focuses on the unheralded heroes of automobile safety: Dr. Claire Straith, a Detroit plastic surgeon who fought in the 1920's to get padded dashboards and recessed knobs installed in cars to protect his patient's faces in an accident; Bela Berenyi, a Mercedes engineer who completely changed the way cars were designed and built with the invention of crumple zone and rigid cab construction; Nils Bohlin, the Volvo engineer who holds the patent for the single most effective safety device in any car—the seat belt; and John Hetrick, the unsung inventor of the airbag whose work was 20 years too early. PBS original broadcast date: 02/16/99

PBS Topic: Technology/Engineering Teachers Link

Jeffrey O'Connell and Arthur Myers: Authors of, Safety Last: An Indictment of the Auto Industry, New York: Random House, published in 1966 – Review of book makes the point that various research bodies around the country were financed by the auto industry, the Automobile Manufacturers Association. [The authors present that] these "independent bodies" were established by the industry to do its bidding and they do not publish criticisms of the hands that feed them. They are all "unduly cautious," to say the least. "Research" in auto safety is bought and paid for by the industry. (See page 11) The research, which gets done, is extremely selective. The emphasis is on the driver and the highway, never on the vehicle. In some cases where auto research was done, the data were systematically withheld from the public. (See pages 168-191). ~ Review | Book

The Gansu school bus accident - The news of a Chinese government donation of 23 school buses to the Republic of Macedonia on 25 November, 2011, outraged Chinese netizens, who [were] mourning for the death of 19 preschool kids in a car accident in Gansu province on 16 November, 2011. From the comment section below the video at this webpage, there are several rather terse citizen comments concerning the Chinese government donating [the] 23 school buse to anther county. One of those comments, apparently translated to English.  ?淑平: "While refusing to buy school buses for our own country's school kids, [the government] has donated 23 school buses to Macedonia while the 20 dead kids' bodies are still warm. The Chinese ambassador said: the buses have 35 seats, meeting all required criteria - protective automatic doors, fire extinguisher and safety belt for every seat. I can bear this no more..."  The so-called “school bus” in the Gansu car crash is a minivan originally consisting of 9 seats but modified to accommodate 64 kids. In the accident, the van collided with a truck causing the death of 2 adults and 19 kindergarten kids. A memorial video was produced. The video is in Chinese. English captions would have been nice but the scenes provide an adequate presentation.

Media contacts in favor of seat belts on the school buses
(Replace # with @ sign in emails.)

Dr. Arthur L. Yeager: Seat belt expert that helped mandate seat belts installed on New Jersey school buses, where 16,000 school buses were equipped with seat belts by 1998. Author of, The New Jersey Experience, testimony of Arthur L. Yeager, and guest in the national media. Oprah Radio

Newspaper, television & radio media inquiries:
Arthur L. Yeager, DMD, MMH
33 Park Gate Drive
Edison, NJ 08820
Fax 732/321-0457

Dr. Alan Ross: President of a National organization that helps promote seat belts installed on the school buses. Dr. Ross is a factual based expert on seat belts installed on the school buses. He maintains an excellent resource for parent groups and the press to access. Reporters nationwide seek him out for his insight on seat belts on the school buses. Can present the science involved on both sides of this issue.

Newspaper, television and radio media inquiries:
Dr Alan Ross, President NCSBS
P.O Box 1616
Torrington, CT 06790
FAX: 860-626-8863

Jim Hall: former Safety Board chairman has managed numerous transportation crisis situations and knows how to negotiate any complex policy debate with an ease and level of care that is unrivaled.
James E. Hall

Jim Ellis:  Director of Research & Instructional Design at the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute in Syracuse, N.Y.  Stirring the Pot: Showing No Restraint for Lap/Shoulder Belt Opponents

Jim Ellis
(This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

Charlie Gauthier: A former director of NHTSA's office of defects investigation, agrees that compartmentalization is incomplete, and is now a consultant and favors lap/shoulder belts. Gauthier has said the agency was distracted from addressing safety in school bus crashes because so few occur in comparison to other types of roadway accidents. NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Precious Cargo [should be, 'Precious Lives' in my opinion.] School Bus Safety Standards Called Incomplete 
Old phone number to NHTSA Staff Rep: 800-424-9393 (May not work).

Stephen Dawson: Inventor of the school bus noise alarm (prototype patent pending) drove a berry bus one summer, and was a coach and a schoolteacher for 31 years in Vancouver, Washington. He used the new invention in his classroom and obtained excellent results. He soon realized his safety device could also measure noise levels on the school buses. The device could be integrated into the bus camera, a two-way radio, or GPS system to provide a history of noise levels, as well as an alert when noise levels were too high. Dawson presents his thoughts in The School Bus guest article, Dangerous Noise Levels on School Buses? Dawson is retired from full-time teaching and is working to educate the public and education and government officials on this long neglected nation-wide epidemic. In addition, he is also working on marketing the device with companies and/or partnering with research institutions and individuals to get the prototype engineered and on school buses.

Stephen Dawson
Facebook Page

Professor Daniel Cass:  According to Professor Cass, severe head and spinal injuries, are incredibly costly to the community and devastating to the child and the family. Preventing just one brain or spinal injury caused by a school bus crash would save the community up to $15 million, this senior surgeon believes.

Professor Daniel Cass
Childrens Hospital Westmead,
Cnr Hawkesbury Rd & Hainsworth St
More Infomation

Dr. Ray Turner:  Seatbelts on school buses will reduce the occupant displacement and collision injuries occurring between students in opposite seat rows but not necessarily the collisions that can occur between seatmates when all students on the bus are secured by a seatbelt. Seatbelts in school bus accidents are considered by many in the school industry as an unnecessary and even dangerous process. We at SBAR disagree. Seatbelts reduce the level of severity of injuries for many students. Seatbelts prohibit ejections from inside the bus to outside where fatalities usually occur.

Dr. Ray Turner,
Paratransit and School Bus Accident researcher, Author and Collision Investigator
Phone: 210-614-1395
Fax: 210-614-1396

SafeGuard: The SafeGuard FlexSeat® safely transports three elementary school children or two high school students on a standard 39-inch seat. This innovative bus seat with three lap-shoulder belts resolves capacity issues and enhances bus safety with its unique approach to maintaining compartmentalization. FAQ

Contact Information
18881 U.S. 31 North
Westfield, IN 46074
Phone: (877) 447-2305
Fax: (317) 896-2142

Note: To add your association or name and media contact to this article simply drop me a note with some details similar to the above contacts.

Note: 2safeschools is not an advocacy group. Members, including me, have the option to present opinions.


  1. Bus manufacturing is a specific sector of the automotive industry, which carries out the manufacturing of buses and coaches. Bus Manufacturing Industry Report

    1. Always interested in what the industry has to say. Could not find a reference to seat belts on the school buses at your link. If it is just some sort of advertizing I'll have to delete the post. ~ James

  2. I have a young son and he has to be buckled into a child seat or I will get a ticket.. but the school buses have no sorta seat belts at all and carry lots of students of all ages. How is this right? School buses get into accidents too.

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  8. I believe seat belts are not necessary on buses. The children have a big seat in front of them already!

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  12. Its great research and i believe seat belt is most important safety feature in school bus.


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