Education and Early Childhood Development

The Seat Belt Issue

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 issue 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.
  • They are designed so students sit above the impact zone where an automobile would typically hit a school bus.
  • The ā€œGā€ 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 ā€œGā€ forces could exceed 30 G's.

Why is the present school bus design considered the safest possible?

  • School buses have a passive crash protection system known as compartmentalization.
  • 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.

Have seat belts been considered?

  • Yes.
  • 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 nor 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.
  • Moreover, the shoulder belts increase the chance of abdominal injuries to your children because of submarining. Tests show children could slip down, risking injuries to organs covered by the lap belts.
  • In addition, the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently undertook a study to determine if seat belts were required on school buses to keep children safe. They examined crash statistics, current design standards and performed crash tests and concluded, as Transport Canada had previously, that seat belts are not required on large school buses to protect student passengers.

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?

  • If seat belts were deemed safer, they would be used. This decision must be based on data and science and not on emotion and supposition.

What does the future hold for school busing?

  • Transport Canada continues to research this issue and may develop an acceptable three point seat belt in the future, at which time Newfoundland and Labrador would review its current position.
  • The school buses that are operated in our province meet the highest standards in the industry.
  • Safety of our children while traveling on the school bus is enhanced by the training our 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 continues to monitor and where possible improve the school bus specifications for buses which we purchase and to co-operate in matters of relating to the school bus industry in general.


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