School Buses And Seatbelts

Why Don’t All School Buses Have Seatbelts?

It’s an often-asked question and you may also be wondering why school buses often don’t have seatbelts. It isn’t because of neglect or trying to save a few dollars. The answer lies in multiple safety factors as well as a concept known as ‘compartmentalization.’

So, buckle up for an informative journey into school bus safety.

The Uniqueness of School Bus Design

To understand why school buses often don’t have seatbelts, it’s important to first delve into the specific safety standards these vehicles are built to meet. Bus design and build must follow the regulations established by Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). There are numerous regulatory requirements for manufacturers to adhere to, including:

  • seat anchorage
  • electronic stability control
  • pedestrian safety devices
  • mirrors and rear visibility systems
  • lighting systems and reflective devices
  • passenger seating and crash protection
  • bus body joint strength
  • fuel integrity systems

Transport Canada has applied over 40 safety standards to the design and construction of school buses made in and imported into Canada. And manufacturers continue to develop new innovations to increase protection, such as video cameras on both the inside and outside of the bus, collision mitigation systems, stop arm cameras, student and vehicle tracking technology, and lane departure warnings. Buses are truly the safest vehicles on the road.

Riding a school bus is statistically 70 times safer than riding in a family vehicle. School buses are not passenger vehicles. They are built to rely on passive safety, not on seat belts, and are designed and constructed differently from passenger cars. The bus’s large size and height keep passengers clear of impact zones. School buses are easy to see, with the bright yellow color and added visibility features such as reflective tape and strobe lighting. Every single feature you see in a school bus is there for a reason, primarily to ensure the safety of the students onboard.

Seatbelt Effectiveness and Student Safety on Buses

While it’s true that seatbelts offer added protection, there are other considerations to keep in mind when considering seatbelts as part of transporting a large number of school-aged children.

The effectiveness of a seatbelt is dependent on it being worn properly. For a seatbelt to do its job, it needs to be snug to the body, with the lap belt low across the hips and the shoulder strap over the shoulder but not rubbing on the neck. This adjustment is normally done by a parent on behalf of their young children in a personal vehicle. However, in a bus, it becomes the responsibility of the bus operator to ensure the seat belts are being used and adjusted properly for every child on every trip. This is a lot more challenging in a 70-passenger bus than in a 5-passenger car.

When seatbelts are not worn properly, they can actually have adverse effects in the event of an accident. The use of lap belts alone was discontinued as research has shown they can increase the risk of serious head and neck injuries. However, even 3-point seatbelts can cause injuries i.e. abdominal injuries if the child slips down (submarines) below proper lap belt placement.

Other safety concerns include potential difficulty in evacuating all passengers in the event of an emergency. Seatbelts can hinder evacuation, placing young children in an undesirable situation where they may be responsible for their own safety. And there’s always the challenge of working with children who may misuse the seatbelts and may not stay buckled. The reality is that the driver cannot ensure that every child has their seat belt properly on at all times.

Wear Your Seatbelt Properly

Step 1: Sit with your back against the back of the seat. Make sure your hips all the way back in the seat. If you are not sitting upright all the way to the back of your seat, slack can develop in the belt which can cause serious injuries in a collision.

Step 2: Pull the shoulder strap across your body towards your hip on the opposite side.

Step 3: Grasp the seat buckle with your other hand and make sure the slotted top end is pointed upwards with the release button on the side away from you.

Step 4: Insert the seat belt latch into the buckle. You should hear a click when the buckle locks into the latch.

Step 5: Pull on the seat belt at the buckle to make sure all slack is removed.


What is compartmentalization and how does it ensure your child’s safety during their school commute? This term probably sparks more questions than answers. Faced with the above challenges, safety experts have designed an alternate physical method to keep kids safe in the event of an accident. Buses use a safety concept called ‘compartmentalization,’ which involves specially designed seating to provide protection. It’s a unique form of “automatic” passenger protection with high-backed, closely spaced, well-padded, energy-absorbing seating specifically designed to protect children. This engineering concept is among the best safety innovations and is one of the main reasons that school buses are so safe – even without seat belts. In this way, as long as children are in their seats, it serves a similar purpose to seatbelts but without the need for active participation from the child. Compartmentalization creates a safe zone, restricting forward movement, and absorbing energy during a collision.

Adding Seatbelts – Who Decides?

Regulators have made it the responsibility of operators, schools and provinces to decide on seatbelt inclusion (those responsible for school bus operation). If a bus operator plans to order school buses with seat belts, they take on additional responsibility and need to consider:

  • how to make sure children wear seat belts correctly and at all times
  • procedures for school bus loading and unloading
  • procedures for emergency exits
  • school bus driver training
  • student education and training
  • plan for additional cost of seatbelt installation

Check with your local school board to find out what policies they are enacting if you have concerns. Understanding bus design should help reassure you that school buses are truly the safest way to get students to and from school. The best thing you can do is educate your children on safe bus practices, including staying seated at all times.