Response to Seat Belt Questions

Below we have compiled some answers to the most frequently asked questions we are hearing from districts, as well as other relevant information to help ensure you are well informed to make the best decisions for your operation. To go along with this information we will also be putting out a position paper in the New Year, and a dedicated web page on our web site with relevant information we have. Please ensure you take the time to look through the links provided to better educate yourself with all the factual information available.


According to Transport Canada (TC), School bus travel continues to be the safest means for transporting children to and from school. From 1999 to 2008, only an estimated 1% of all school-age child fatalities that occurred during normal school transportation were in school buses. There have been no school age child fatalities on a school bus in Canada since 2008. The majority of child fatalities, 67%, occurred in light duty personal vehicle accidents. Statistics also show that children are over 16 times more likely to be killed walking to school when compared to taking a school bus.

This safety record is partially due to occupant protection features that have been required on school buses since the 1970s.


School buses have unique roof strength, body joint strength and compartmentalization requirements. Compartmentalization, through requirements for high back padded seats that are closely spaced together, protects occupants without the need for seat belts.

ASTSBC: Since theses statistics were released more current numbers indicate less than 1 fatality per year, this includes two major accidents in Alberta where seat belts would have made no difference and, in fact, may have created more fatalities: in one instance, the bus was rear ended by a loaded gravel truck. While three students were killed, two others were able to get out of the way at the last moment, something they may not have been able to do had they been wearing 3-point seat belts.

Canada Safety Council: School buses transport almost three million Canadian children a day, traveling millions of kilometers in both rural and urban areas. Would these children be safer with seat-belts?

Statistically, the school bus is the safest way for children to get to school. On average over the past 10 years there has been less than one fatality per year inside a school bus. Most injuries happen outside the bus. 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. They are bigger, heavier, and sit higher off the ground. Newer systems, such as an anti-lock braking system would be more beneficial.

School buses protect passengers through “compartmentalization,” a design that includes:

  • Seats with high backs;
  • Seats filled with energy-absorbing material;
  • Seats placed close together to form compartments;
  • Strong seat anchorages.


Research has shown that lap belts could actually increase the risk of head injuries in a head-on collision (the most common type of bus collision.) By holding the child’s pelvis firmly in place, the torso could whip forward; with the head striking the back of the seat in front of them with greater force than if the whole body had hit the seat. This could result in serious head and neck injuries.

Combination lap and shoulder belts would require stiffer seats, which could increase injury to students who are not buckled up. The driver cannot ensure that every child has their seat belt on; some buses can carry up to 70 children. Moreover, the shoulder belts can lead to abdominal injuries because of “submarining” – when children slip down, risking injuries to organs covered by the lap belts.

Beyond certain engineering problems, someone would need to ensure the seat belts are used, adjusted properly between uses by smaller children and larger children and repaired when damaged. In an emergency, seatbelts could hinder evacuation. Young children should not be placed in a situation where they are responsible for their safety.



Question: To add belts to new buses costs, according to the Fifth Estate report, would cost  $7-10K. Is this something that is available for new bus purchases?

ASTSBC: The figure quoted is very realistic and achievable at this price, depending on the size of the bus. This is an available option from all vendors and can be easily added to our options list in future purchases. The bigger question that will need to be addressed is the current legislation regarding the use of seatbelts.

Question: Can existing buses be retrofitted with seat belts?

 ASTSBC: First off retrofits are only available from one manufacturer that has supplied buses to BC, and only from model year 2014 and newer at a cost of approximately $850/seat back.  The other manufacturers would have a very complicated task to comply to current laws as the seating plan and spacing would have to be re-engineered and signed off by the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). There would end up being issues around structural integrity due to more holes being put in the floor and side walls. The cost of this retrofit if it could be signed off on would be in excess of $30,000.00 for a full size bus. In addition to cost and engineering, we still have a legislation issue in BC that puts the responsibility on the driver for all passengers under the age of 16 for seat belts; the majority of riders in BC are under the age of 16. This would create another huge liability issue for employees at districts, and one that ICBC has already pushed away when the use of child seats came into effect a number of years ago.

Question: Apart from the liability issues arising from using a bus that has been modified by a seat belt installation, are there  also liability and public relations issues from doing nothing after being made aware of potential danger?

 ASTSBC: Portions of these concerns have already been addressed above. As for being made aware of the potential dangers from the media, there is just as much data and information supporting the nonuse, as there is supporting the use of 3 point belts. Although we would all agree the safety of students would improve in a roll over crash or severe sides impact ( these are the two types of accidents with school buses that are the least frequent ) in the case of a fire or emergency evacuation due to an accident we may actually see more injuries and fatalities over all. NHTSA (the National Highway and Traffic Administration in the US ) has ran statistics on types of crashes and the risk vs. benefit has not been proven, and this is why the issue continues to be debated. TC(Transport Canada) takes it’s lead from NHTSA and over the past 20 year has continued to mirror their laws for Canada. We are all about improving safety of the children in our care, but there are  many ways of doing this and seat belts may not be the best utilization of resources.

There is a good probability we would save more lives if we invest in more training for our drivers, bus safety education for students, reduced walk limits, public education campaign – to stop for school buses with red lights flashing, increased fines and enforcement for red light runners, electronic stability control and collision mitigation technology on school buses, 360 degree outside camera views for drivers and more buses transporting more children in the safest mode of transportation to get to school, The Black and Yellow School Bus.

It is also worth noting that the black and yellow school bus is the only over-the-road vehicle in Canada that is built  to a construction safety standard, that  ensures the seats are actually bolted through the steel cross members attached to the frame rails under the bus, unlike most other buses that are put in with wood screws into the plywood floor. Children who are transported to and  from school in a school bus are 18 times safer than in a passenger vehicle statistically.

 Below are a few excerpts that are note worthy, as well as a fact sheet previously  published by ICBC,  the latest rule makings from TC and NHTSA, and Part 2 of  the Transport Canada Gazette. For background information review the proposal by

Transport Canada published in Gazette Part 1 on March 18, 2017.

Gazette Part II, published July 11, 2018

These are responses in the US to Law Makers. Please keep in mind Transport Canada’s mandate is to work toward aligning everything with NHTSA.