Currently federal regulations do not require large school buses (>10,000 pounds) to have any seat belts installed, and approximately 4 school age children (5-18 years old) who are occupants of large school buses are killed annually. It is estimated that the average incremental cost of equipping a large school bus with lap/shoulder belts without a loss in occupant capacity to be $7,346 – $10,296. While the cost of installing lap/shoulder belts can be expensive, GWR Safety Systems recommends at the very least installing two-point lap belts in every large school bus, and with GWR bus lap belts, the cost will be less than $1,000 for each bus (https://gwrco.com/seatbelts/school-bus-seat-belts/).
To provide some background on the federal regulations, the laws have not changed since a final ruling in 2008. The NHTSA (under the U.S. Department of Transportation) published the “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Seating Systems, Occupant Crash Protection, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages, School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection Final Rule on October 21st, 2008 (provide a link). This final rule upgraded the school bus passenger crash protection requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 222. This final rule required all new school buses manufactured after October 21, 2011, with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or less, to have lap/shoulder belts for all seating positions, in lieu of the lap belts currently required. School buses with a GVWR of greater than 10,000 pounds are not required to have any type of restraints for passenger seating positions, and installation of lap-shoulder belts is voluntary. The NHTSA gave each State or local jurisdiction the ability to decide whether seat belts are required to be installed on these large school buses. This final rule did require any voluntarily installed seat belts on large school buses to meet the performance requirements of FMVSS Nos. 208, 210, and 222. Standards were developed to ensure both the strength of the anchorages and the compatibility of the seat with compartmentalization. Also, a “Quasi-Static” test was established to verify seat performance with respect to the established standards. Test standards were revised to accommodate seat designs using dual frame seats and flexible seating.
This final ruling also worked to increase safety by raising the required height of all seat backs from 20 inches to 24 inches to improve compartmentalization on all new school buses manufactured after October 21, 2009, and also required a self-latching mechanism on seat bottom cushions that are designed to flip up or be removable without tools.
Currently only 6 states require seat belts on large school buses: California requires lap/shoulder belts, New York, Florida, and New Jersey require lap belts, Texas requires lap/shoulder belts but State legislature has not provided funds, and Louisiana requires lap belts but State legislature has not provided funds.