The inquisitive eight-year-old daughter of Mike Kim, a reader in Markham, Ontario wants to know: “How come there are no seat belts in school buses?” Globe Drive recently found the answer to this puzzling question: That buses are relatively safe, and seat belts may make them less so:
“Transport Canada and the provinces do not require school buses to have seat belts,” Roxane Marchand, senior media advisor with the agency, said in an email statement. “This is because compartmentalization — high-backed seats that are padded and closely spaced together — protects passengers in a crash.”
David Carroll, Legislation and Safety Consultant to the Ontario School Bus Association says that the compartment style of the bus means “There’s not a lot of room between seats and that’s to reduce acceleration in a collision.”
School buses are relatively safe vehicles as they are:
There were 3,684 injuries and 11 deaths in crashes on school buses in Canada between 2003 to 2012, Transport Canada notes in their National Collision Database.
In the same period, there were nearly 1.34 million injuries and 22,397 deaths in crashes on Canadian roads in all other vehicles.
And the addition of seat belts may make the compartmentalization of the school bus structure less safe:
If there are seat belts on a school bus, Transport Canada recommends three-point belts — the harness and lap belt combination seen in most cars. But seats would have to be redesigned to have stiffer seat backs to support the shoulder belts.
“With firmer seat backs, you no longer have the same protection in that compartment,” Carroll said. “So any kids who aren’t wearing seat belts won’t be as protected in a crash as they are now.”
But these policies may change: In the U.S., rules will soon change for new motor coaches – like the ones used by Greyhound:
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will be requiring seat belts on all newly built motor coaches, and Transport Canada says it’s drafting regulations to follow suit.
Those new rules don’t affect school buses — but that could eventually change.
This month, the new head of NHTSA, convened a group to study whether seat belts should be mandatory on all school buses.