Safety on School Buses: Are Seat Belts Required?

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Sending your children to school on a bus shouldn’t mean putting their lives in danger. Yet in many states, school buses are missing one important safety device: the seatbelt. Only six states (Florida included) mandate the installation of seat belts for passengers in school buses. Other states may choose whether to install seat belts in school buses – something that can cost thousands of dollars – as there is no federal requirement. Get to know the school bus seatbelt law in Florida to help improve the safety of your child in case of an accident.

School Bus Safety and Accident Statistics

School buses are mostly a safe mode of transportation for children. In fact, misconceptions surrounding the “dangers” of school buses can put children at higher risk of accidents and injuries. Federal and state governments highly regulate school bus safety. Less than 1% of traffic fatalities nationwide happen on school buses, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Children are about 70 times more likely to make it to school safely on school buses than traveling to school by car. Still, accidents do happen.

An average of four to six children die every year in school transportation vehicles. In 2016, 227 fatal accidents throughout the U.S. involved buses. Many of these accidents were school buses. Although preventing these accidents is always top priority, when crashes do occur seat belts can go a long way toward improving passenger safety. Wearing a seatbelt can keep passengers in place during a collision, rather than allowing them to fly about the cabin and collide with other people, seats, and things. Unfortunately, many school buses in the U.S. don’t have seat belts, as was the case in one tragedy from 2016 that took five student lives.

Not wearing a seatbelt during a school bus accident could result in injuries such as bone fractures, head injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries. Serious injuries can still occur while wearing a seatbelt, but the risk is much lower. Florida, California, New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Texas have all enacted statutes requiring schools to equip their buses with seat belts. This process costs between $7,000 and $10,000 on average, but could save lives in the event of a serious crash.

Florida Statute Section 316.6145: The School Bus Seatbelt Law

Parents can find the Florida law requiring school bus seatbelts in Section 316.6145. The law states that all school buses purchased new after December 31, 2000 must have safety belts or other approved restraint systems before they may transport students in grades pre-K through 12. All buses must have enough safety belts to allow each student on the bus to use a separate one. School bus safety belts must meet the minimum safety standards according to Section 316.614.

While implementing this requirement, school districts in Florida must give priority to school buses at elementary schools first. Furthermore, the law requires all passengers on school buses equipped with safety belts to wear them – properly adjusted and fastened – at all times while the driver is operating the bus. Unfortunately, the law does not apply to school buses the state purchased prior to December 31, 2000. If older buses remain in operation, the law does not require them to have seat belts.

Who Is Liable?

The Florida school bus seatbelt law explicitly eliminates liability for school bus accident injuries that arise from the passenger failing to wear a seatbelt. This does not, however, bar a parent from filing a lawsuit after a bus crash. If the school, the state, the bus driver, and/or another party was negligent, and this negligence caused the collision, that party could still be liable for damages – whether or not the student was wearing a seatbelt at the time. It will be up to the filing party to prove the defendant’s culpability for the student’s injuries or wrongful death. An accident attorney can help parents of children injured in a Florida school bus crash.