School Bus Safety

Last updated: 10-30-2019

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School Bus Safety

School Bus Safety
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Overview
The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road—your child is much safer taking a bus to and from school than traveling by car. Although four to six school-age children die each year on school transportation vehicles, that’s less than one percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide. NHTSA believes school buses should be as safe as possible. That’s why our safety standards for school buses are above and beyond those for regular buses.
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Bus Safety Facts
70x
Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a school bus instead of traveling by car.
>17M
Number of cars needed to transport students currently riding on all school buses in the United States
Safety requirements of school buses (PDF, 987 KB)
Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car. That’s because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road ; they’re designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries; and in every state, stop-arm laws protect children from other motorists.
Different by Design: School buses are designed so that they’re highly visible and include safety features such as flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors and stop-sign arms. They also include protective seating, high crush standards and rollover protection features.
Protected by the Law: Laws protect students who are getting off and on a school bus by making it illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while dropping off or picking up passengers, regardless of the direction of approach.
Seat Belts on School Buses
Traffic Safety Facts
School-Transportation-Related Crashes, May 2019 (PDF, 504.5 KB)
Seat belts have been required on passenger cars since 1968; and 49 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring the use of seat belts in passenger cars and light trucks. There is no question that seat belts play an important role in keeping passengers safe in these vehicles. But school buses are different by design, including a different kind of safety restraint system that works extremely well.
Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passenger cars and light trucks do. Because of these differences, bus passengers experience much less crash force than those in passenger cars, light trucks and vans.
NHTSA decided the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through a concept called “compartmentalization.” This requires that the interior of large buses protect children without them needing to buckle up. Through compartmentalization, children are protected from crashes by strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs.
Small school buses (with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less) must be equipped with lap and/or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions. Since the sizes and weights of small school buses are closer to those of passenger cars and trucks, seat belts in those vehicles are necessary to provide occupant protection.
The Topic
Reducing the Illegal Passing of School Buses
The greatest risk to your child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one. Before your child goes back to school or starts school for the first time, it’s important for you and your child to know traffic safety rules. Teach your child to follow these practices to make school bus transportation safer.
For Parents
Pedestrian Safety
Safety Starts at the Bus Stop
Your child should arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Visit the bus stop and show your child where to wait for the bus: at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb. Remind your child that the bus stop is not a place to run or play.
Get On and Off Safely
When the school bus arrives, your child should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay before approaching the bus door. Your child should use the handrails to avoid falling.
Use Caution Around the Bus
Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her. If your child drops something near the school bus, like a ball or book, the safest thing is for your child to tell the bus driver right away. Your child should not try to pick up the item, because the driver might not be able to see him/her.
For Drivers
Make school bus transportation safer for everyone by following these practices:
When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in neighborhood.
Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
Learn and obey the school bus laws in your state, as well as the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions:
Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
School Bus Driver In-Service Safety Series - This refresher training provides nine lesson modules on driving a school bus, which is frequently requested by school bus drivers and pupil transportation supervisors.
The Topic
School Bus Regulations
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The following FAQs will help you understand how NHTSA’s regulations define school buses, multifunction school activity buses, school-related events, and much more.
What is a school bus?
For the purposes of NHTSA’s school bus regulations, a school bus is a “bus” that is sold or introduced into interstate commerce for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events. A bus is a motor vehicle that has capacity of 11 or more people (including the driver). This definition can include vans, but does not include buses operated as common carriers in urban transportation.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act) requires any person selling or leasing a new school bus to sell or lease a bus that meets all FMVSSs applicable to school buses.
In addition to NHTSA’s Federal definition of school bus, a State or school district may have a definition for school bus that differs from NHTSA’s definition, but that would not affect NHTSA’s requirements. The State definition determines which vehicles are subject to the State operational requirements for school buses. The definition for NHTSA’s school bus regulations, which determines whether a new bus sold or leased for pupil transportation must be certified as meeting Federal school bus standards, is unaffected by State definitions.
What is a multifunction school activity bus?
Under NHTSA’s regulations, a multifunction school activity bus (MFSAB) is defined as “a school bus whose purposes do not include transporting students to and from home or school bus stops.” An MFSAB must meet all FMVSSs applicable to school buses except those requiring the installation of traffic control devices (flashing lights and stop arms). If a new school bus will not be used to transport students to and from home or school bus stops, an MFSAB may be sold. If a new school bus will be used to transport students between school and home, or between school and school bus stops, an MFSAB must not be sold.
What is a school, for the purposes of NHTSA’s school bus regulations?
The Safety Act defines a school bus as a bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary students to or from school or related events. Based on this definition, NHTSA considers any preprimary, primary, or secondary school a “school” for purposes of NHTSA’s school bus regulations.
NHTSA interprets “school” in the context of its regulations not to include daycares, childcare centers, or preschools, including Head Start Programs. NHTSA does not regulate, under our school bus regulations, the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to and from these facilities.
In addition, organizations providing religious instruction, such as Sunday school, are not considered “schools” under NHTSA’s school bus regulations. Athletic teams that have no connection with a school are also not considered schools.
What is a school-related event, for the purposes of NHTSA’s school bus regulations?
A school-related event is any activity sponsored by a school, whether on or off school grounds. These may include, but are not limited to, sports events, band concerts, field trips, and competitions such as debate or chess tournaments. Athletic teams that have no connection with a school are also not considered schools.
Does NHTSA consider a college or university a “school” for the purposes of its school bus regulations?
No. The school bus requirements do not apply to the transportation of post-secondary school students such as college students, adult education participants, or post-high school vocational students.
Does NHTSA consider a daycare, childcare center, or preschool a “school” for the purposes of its school bus regulations?
No. NHTSA interprets “school” not to include daycares, childcare centers, or preschools, including Head Start programs. NHTSA does not regulate, under our school bus regulations, the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to and from these facilities.
While NHTSA does not regulate the types of vehicles that may be sold for transporting children to Head Start programs, Head Start has regulations regarding vehicle use for its programs. Head Start programs should consult with the Office of Head Start if they have questions regarding compliance with those requirements.
When are you required to use a school bus?
Federal law regulates the manufacture and sale of new vehicles, but does not regulate vehicle use. Each State has the authority to determine how school children must be transported. State law should be consulted for determining use requirements.
Liability for using a non-complying bus to transport students is a matter addressed by State law. Schools, school districts, and other student transportation providers should consult their attorneys or insurance carriers regarding liability concerns.
While NHTSA does not regulate vehicle use, NHTSA has issued recommendations for States on various operational aspects of school bus and pupil transportation safety programs . Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 17, Pupil Transportation Safety, recommends that school children be transported to and from school and related events in school buses. Each State decides to what extent it will follow Guideline No. 17.
Do NHTSA’s school bus regulations apply to sales of new vehicles to entities that are not schools, but that provide student transportation to or from school or related events?
Basically, the answer is yes. Under NHTSA’s school bus regulations, entities selling a new bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport students to preprimary, primary, or secondary school must sell a new “school bus.” The entity purchasing the bus, which will be providing the transportation, is not relevant for determining whether a school bus must be sold. The determining factor is whether the bus will likely be used significantly for pupil transportation to or from school or related events.
For example, if a church group purchases a new bus, and one of the purposes for purchasing the bus is to provide student transportation to school-related sporting events on multiple evenings in the school week, the person selling the new bus must sell it as a school bus. This is because the new bus was sold for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events. The same is true of day care providers who also provide transportation to or from school. NHTSA’s school bus regulations are also applicable to school transportation contractors who are purchasing new buses.
May schools purchase or lease new 15-passenger vans?
The Safety Act prohibits a school or school system from purchasing or leasing a new 15-passenger van if it will be used significantly by or on behalf of the school or school system to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary school students to or from school or related events, unless the van complies with FMVSSs prescribed for school buses or MFSABs. A school in violation of this requirement may be subject to substantial civil penalties under the Safety Act.
May 15-passenger vans be used to transport students to or from school or school-related events?
Federal law regulates the manufacture and sale of new vehicles, but does not regulate vehicle use. Each State has the authority to determine how school children must be transported. State law should be consulted for determining use requirements.
NHTSA’s school bus regulations require that if a new bus is sold and is likely to be used significantly to transport students to preprimary, primary, or secondary schools, a “school bus” must be sold. However, NHTSA’s school bus regulations do not prohibit the use of 15-passenger vans for such transport, or the sale of used 15-passenger vans intended for such transport. If you choose to use a 15-passenger van, consult NHTSA’s safety recommendations when operating a 15-passenger van .
Because school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country, NHTSA strongly recommends all buses used to transport school children are certified as meeting NHTSA's school bus safety standards.
How do NHTSA’s school bus regulations apply to vehicle dealers?
NHTSA’s school bus regulations require that if a new bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary school students to or from school or school-related events is sold, it must be certified to the Federal school bus safety standards. Persons selling or leasing a new school bus must sell or lease a bus meeting the Federal school bus safety standards.
If a dealer sells or leases a vehicle that does not meet the Federal school bus safety standards, and the dealer knows or has reason to know that the bus was to be used significantly to transport students, the dealer may be subject to substantial civil penalties under the Safety Act.
Many entities in addition to schools provide school transportation, including child care centers, religious groups, community groups, and school transportation contractors. As a result, we advise dealers, prior to sale, to inquire whether buses purchased by these groups, or other entities who the seller believes may be purchasing the vehicle for pupil transportation, will be used significantly to transport students. NHTSA encourages dealers to obtain written confirmation from the purchaser that the vehicle will not be used in this manner for their records.


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