Seat belts on school buses

We recognize that seat belts on school buses can offer added protection for school-age children, if they're used and installed properly. Learn more about who is responsible for seat belt safety on school buses.

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When are seat belts safe on school buses?

Seat belts have a proven safety record. Transport Canada mandates them on a variety of vehicles, including passenger cars. When they are used and installed properly, seat belts on school buses can offer another layer of safety to complement the existing, highly effective protection provided by compartmentalization. Compartmentalization allows children to be protected by high back seats, made from energy absorbing material that cushion the impact in a collision. These seats have strong anchorages and are spaced closely together to create compartments.

If seat belts are not used or installed the right way on school buses, they could have a negative impact on safety. Making sure all children are properly secured in seat belts is a lot more challenging in a 70-passenger school bus than in a 5-passenger car or 7-passenger minivan.

This is one of the reasons we allow provinces, territories and school bus operators to decide whether to install seat belts. They are ultimately responsible for school bus operations.

As of July 2018, we do regulate seat belt installation on school buses.

Responsibilities of school bus operators, provinces and territories

School bus operators, provinces and territories manage seat belt use on school buses, and other safety matters including:

  • ensuring seat belts are adjusted properly for the size of child
  • avoiding misuse, made worse by children moving around in their seats, unbuckling or wearing a backpack
  • ensuring seat belts are unfastened during emergency exits

If an operator plans to buy school buses with seat belts, they need to consider:

  • how to make sure children wear seat belts correctly and at all times
  • procedures for school bus loading and unloading
  • procedures for emergency exits
  • school bus driver training
  • student education and training

Provinces and territories, and school bus operators, must cover the cost of installing seat belts without reducing the number of school buses in operation. School buses are the safest way to get students to and from school. A shortage of school buses means children are more at risk on our roads.

Updated regulations for seat belts on school buses

In July 2018, we amended the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations with technical requirements for how to install seat belts on school buses, if a province, school board or operator chooses to install them.

This approach matches the United States requirement. It directly supports a consistent Canada and U.S. approach to school bus safety.

If an operator buys a school bus with seat belts installed, these technical requirements make sure that they:

  • are installed properly
  • don't compromise the bus' "compartmentalization" design - a design that includes high, padded seat backs and other requirements to help ensure passenger safety
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