The Use of Seat Belts in California School Buses

8899538672_268da7e35eSchool buses are one of the safest modes of transportation, with only 1% of all student fatalities during normal school travel hours the result of school bus accidents, despite the fact that seat belts are not installed. California is one of only six states that requires the installation and use of seat belts on school buses. What are those laws, and how could it impact your child in the event she is involved in a school bus accident?

California School Bus Seat Belt Law

The vast majority of school buses throughout the nation do not have seat belts. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which establishes federal motor vehicle safety standards on motor vehicles, including school buses, does not require the installation of seat belts on large school buses (those weighing more than 10,000 pounds or more). Numerous studies have found that traveling on a large school bus without a seat belt is still safer than traveling in a small school bus or motor vehicle, where seat belt use is required. The NHTSA determined that the potential benefit the use of seat belts in school buses would provide was not large enough to create a federal law requiring their installation and use.

However, states are free to create their own laws requiring the use of seat belts in school buses. California is one of only six states that require the installation and use of seat belts in school buses. The California law requires the installation of a three-point (lap and shoulder) seat belt as follows:

  • School buses with a 16-passenger capacity (Type 1) manufactured on or after July 1, 2005
  • School buses with a passenger capacity of less than 16 passengers (Type 2) and manufactured on or after July 1, 2004

Of California’s 25,822 certified school buses, only 1,900, or 7.3%, have seat belts installed. In addition, all passengers riding in a California school bus equipped with seat belts must wear them, and students must receive age-appropriate instruction on the proper use of the seat belt.

Due to the unique design of school bus, the percentage of injuries and fatalities due to school bus accidents are low, and the majority of those injuries are sustained by passengers in the other vehicle, pedestrians or bicyclists, and not the occupants of the school bus itself.

If your child is injured or killed in a school bus accident, you may be entitled to damages for those injuries. The basis of the claim would not, however, lie in the lack of a seat belt. As noted, school buses manufactured prior to 2004 and 2005, depending on the type of seat belt, were not required to have them installed. And the new law only requires school buses manufactured after those dates to have them installed; it does not require that bus companies purchase brand new buses, or that school districts only use school buses with seat belts installed.

If your child was injured in a school bus accident as the result of his not using a seat belt, you also likely would not have a claim based on his failure to use the seat belt. While the law requires all passengers to use the seat belts, bus drivers, teachers, chaperones, the school, and the school district are immune from liability for a passenger’s failure to use the seat belt, unless you can prove that the students did not receive age appropriate instruction on how the proper use of the seat belt.

Instead, in a school bus accident case the claim would likely be based on driver negligence, failure of the bus company to train its driver, or mechanical problems with the school bus due to improper maintenance. A Walnut Creek school bus accident attorney can sit down with you and discuss whether you have a claim for any injuries your child sustained.

Walnut Creek School Bus Accident Attorneys

If your child is injured as the result of a Walnut Creek school bus accident, you may be able to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the school bus driver, the school bus company or the school district – or even all three. At Appel Law Firm LLP, our school bus accident attorneys have more than 60 combined years of experience handling personal injury and wrongful death claims resulting from every type of motor vehicle accident, including those involving school buses. Conveniently located near the Walnut Creek BART station, we are here to help. Call us today toll-free at 888-527-0674 to schedule a consultation.


Photo Credit: kevin42135 via Compfight cc

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