Child Seats on School Buses: Questions and Answers

Is a school bus safe?
School buses are the safest form of transportation for children. Children are many times safer riding a bus than any other form of transportation to school.

Other vehicles have seat belts – why don't school buses?
The passive safety system preferred for use in school buses is called compartmentalization. This system uses the seats, and the bus interior, to form a protective compartment in case of a collision. Consequently, seatbelts are not recommended on school buses. In fact, research has shown that the use of lap belts only on school buses increases the risk of injury.

What's wrong with lap-only belts? 
The child's body may pivot around the belt, causing the head and neck to hit the seat back in front of the child. In addition, it is difficult to ensure that all children are wearing the belt correctly, low over the hips. If the belt rides up, the force may be concentrated in the stomach and spinal area, causing serious internal organ or spinal cord damage. 

How does compartmentalization work?
The seat backs are a specific distance apart and are made of energy-absorbing materials. In a collision, the body of the passenger behind the seat moves forward, knocking against and deforming the energy-absorbing materials, and distributing the force of the crash across the entire upper body area.

Does compartmentalization work for everybody?
Recent Transport Canada research suggests that children under 18 kilograms, or younger than approximately 4½ years old, do not benefit from compartmentalization as much as older children do. The heads of younger children are proportionately larger, causing them to move forward faster and make contact with the seat back in a different fashion. In addition, their bodies don't weigh enough to take full advantage of the energy-absorbing seat back design. Instead, they may bounce off awkwardly. Therefore, for children under 18 kilograms, or younger than approximately 4½ years old, Transport Canada recommends the use of a standard car child seat that is appropriate to the child's height and weight. 

How can a child restraint be connected if there are no seat belts?
As of 1 April 2007, all newly built school buses are required to come equipped with child seat anchors. The minimum seating positions required to have anchors differs depending on the number of designated passenger seating positions as follows:

  • 2 seating positions in school buses with 24 or less designated passenger seating positions

  • 4 seating positions in school buses more than 24 and fewer than 66 designated passenger seating positions

  • 8 seating positions in school buses with 66 or more designated passenger seating positions

The lower anchor allows for the base of a child seat to be installed in the bus, while the tether anchor allows the top of a child seat to be attached to the school bus seat. Vehicle use and its maintenance, including any associated retrofitting, is a provincial/territorial matter.

Is my child safer in a school bus?
Yes, school buses are the safest method for transporting children. Statistics indicate that transportation by school bus is safer than by passenger car. School buses are large and heavy vehicles, which protect the occupants in case of a collision. Also, the use of large school buses reduces the number of smaller passenger vehicles required to transport students.

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