Seat Belts

Wyoming Seat Belt Bill Moves Forward

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — What could be the nation's third school bus lap/shoulder belt requirement went to a House hearing in Wyoming after passing the Senate by a 23-7 vote.

Nebraska Looks at School Bus Seat Belt Bill

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska joined a number of states considering a lap/shoulder belt requirement for school buses, but concerns about liability and money may once again grind the debate to a halt.

The Great Debate

The issue of whether or not to install seat belts in large school buses has been a matter of public policy debate for more than a quarter century. A handful of states and localities have enacted legislation to require the devices, but more states rejected the idea than accepted it.

Following ground-breaking research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2002, and the introduction of three-point lap/shoulder belt systems in 2003, the terms of the debate have changed. To properly understand the likely future outcome of the debate it is helpful to understand the new technology first. Since then, NHTSA published a final rule that requires 3-point lap/shoulder securements in small Type A school buses manufactured as of September 2011 and provides voluntary requirements for all large school buses manufactured as of the same date.

Over the years, the terms "seat belt" and "safety belt" have been used to describe seat belt systems in motor vehicles, and even airplanes. From the 1950s through the mid 1960s, such terms were easily understood, since lap belts were the only type of seat belt system available. Starting in the late 1960s, lap/shoulder belts were installed in new passenger motor vehicles.

2-Point vs. 3-Point Systems

Here is another way to understand the distinction. Lap belts (left) are a 2-point belt system that anchors the user on both the right and left side of their lap. Lap/shoulder belts (right) are a 3-point belt system that anchors the user on both the right and left side of their lap AND at the shoulder, typically nearest the side door. Data demonstrating the effectiveness of seat belts or "safety belts" in passenger motor vehicles is actually derived from the use of 3-point safety belts, as auto manufacturers do not offer 2-point lap belts any longer, except in the center seating locations!

As a result, the continued use of the terms "seat belt" and "safety belt" causes confusion. This is especially true with respect to large school buses.

Meanwhile, all manufacturers of small or so-called Type A school buses always install either 2-point lap belt systems or 3-point lap/shoulder belt systems on their products, the latter required by September 2011. This is required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 222.

Up until mid-1991, the only type of "seat belt" or "safety belt" that was available for installation in a large school bus was a lap belt. However, since lap/shoulder belts are now far and away the most prevalent type of "belt" system in passenger motor vehicles, it is likely that many people who read or hear the terms "seat belt" or "safety belt" believe that it referred to lap/shoulder belts, when if fact the term referred to lap belts.

This misinterpretation can easily give the reader both incorrect and inappropriate information, and could lead the reader to make ill-informed decisions that could actually increase the safety risks to children.

How did this conundrum involving such an important safety device come about?

As far back as 1967, researchers at UCLA conducting pioneering research into school bus occupant protection, recommended "passenger protection of lap belts when used with high back seats" in school buses. In the intervening years, this recommendation become a cornerstone of the belief that seat belts should be required in all large school buses. [Remember however, that in the 1960's lap belts were seat belts, and vice versa.]

Now, three decades later, the Great Seat Belt Debate has entered a new phase. In the past couple of years, three companies have begun to offer 3-point lap/shoulder belt systems. C.E. White Co., IMMI/Safeguard and M2K/Takata are independent suppliers to an increasing number of school bus manufacturers. The previous challenge of losing passenger capacity due to seat belts has been solved by the seat manufacturers, which now provide bench seats that can fit three smaller children or two larger children. IC Bus, a major bus manufacturer, developed a 3-point lap shoulder belt system available only on its bus products. Three-point systems are optional equipment as well on all larges Blue Bird buses and Thomas Built Buses.

At this point it is helpful to look at both the case for, and the case against, "seat belts." But bear in mind that the use of the terms "seat belt" and "safety belt" can be confusing. Scholarship does not permit changing the language in the original documents that framed The Great Seat Belt Debate, many more than a decade old, to reflect the evolving use of these terms. Instead, the reader has to judge whether the original author likely was using the term seat belt to denote a 2-point lap belt or 3-point lap/shoulder belt.

Webmaster note: It is interesting that some authors have contacted this Web site and requested their documents be removed altogether, as their solution to the evolving meaning of these important terms.

Web Resources

Presented below are links to Web pages devoted to seat belts in motor vehicle transportation and in school buses.

Final Rules:

  • School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection: Seating Systems, Occupant Crash Protection, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages
    Final rule effective Oct. 21, 2011 that upgrades the school bus passenger crash requirements of FMVSS 222
    • Requires new school buses of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) or less gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) (“small school buses”) to have lap/shoulder belts in lieu of the lap belts currently required.
    • Sets performance standards for seat belts voluntarily installed on school buses with a GVWR greater than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) (“large school buses”).
    • Raises the height of seat backs from 508 mm (20 inches) to 6102 mm (24 inches) on all new school buses and requiring a self-latching mechanism on seatbottom cushions that are designed to flip up or be removable without tools.
    • Each State or local jurisdiction may decide whether to install seat belts on these large school buses.

Web Sites:

  • Alabama School Bus Seat Belt Pilot Program: A three-year study to assess the impact of lap/shoulder restraint systems for passenger safety. The program is a result of a study group formed by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in November 2007 following a fatal school bus crash in Huntsville. The final report was released in the fall of 2010. Study authors admitted that pilot tests at school districts failed to incorporate data from new flexible-seat technology that allows for either two or three students to be bucked up per seat, depending on the student's age and size (two per seat for large middle school students or high school students; three per seat for elementary school and most middle school students).

  • National Education Association: Seat Belts, School Buses & Safety
  • Safeguard4kids.com: A public awareness website by IMMI describing the benefits of occupant secure ment systems on school buses.

  • School Bus Safety: The Seat Belt Issue
    A review of the issue by the New Brunswick Department of Education, January 2002 [PDF file]

  • IMMI of Westfield, Ind., offers the SafeGuard 3-point lap/shoulder belt securement system. The company's Web site describes IMMI's four year research project, including half a dozen full scale dynamic bus crash tests and more than 70 sled tests, to develop a lap and shoulder belt occupant protection system for school buses.

  • HSM's C.E. White line features the Student Safety Seat System, a 3-point lap/shoulder belt system.

  • Syntec Seating Solutions is another school bus seat manufacturer that offers a 3-point lap/shoulder belt solution for school districts that need to fit either two or three students per seat depending on their age and size.

  • Users interested in learning the arguments in favor of seat belts on large school buses should visit National Coalition for Seat Belts on School Buses. This site offers extensive documentation about the pro seatbelt position.

  • The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety offers guidance about increasing seat belt usage among employees.

White Papers:

Advisory Letters:

  • Texas SB 693
    Read a letter from Sen. Sylvia Garcia to all state school district superintendents, school boards, transportation departments and state agencies assisting in the implementation of the law that goes into effect for model-year 2018 school buses that requires them to be equipped with three-point, lap-shoulder seat belts.