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Seat Belt State Laws & Requirements

Of the eight states to pass school-bus, seat-belt laws, only Louisiana has been unable to fully implement the requirement to install belts in new buses due to insufficient funding.

The laws in the Pelican State requires supplemental funding be made available by the state legislatures in order to enforce two-point, lap seat belts. Texas was in the same predicament until June 2017, when the state legislature passed and Gov. Greg Abbott approved a new three-point, lap-shoulder belt to replace the old one that requires all school district purchases of new school buses to included the three-point occupant restraints—unless the local school board votes in a public meeting to defer the requirement due to lack of funds. The previous law passed in 2007 made implementation reliant upon funds being appropriated by the legislature.

Louisiana passed its law in 1999, the same year as Florida, which began requiring two-point belts on buses in 2001 but doesn’t make funding available to school districts. Charlie Hood, the retired director of school transportation at the state Department of Education and currently the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), said funding has never been an issue, as the cost of the restraint systems are less than 2 percent of the overall purchase cost of a new school bus.

“Districts have absorbed that upcharge over the years,” he added.

Hood said that, as of July 3, 2013, about 12,000 of the state’s 15,000 school buses in daily service are equipped with the lap seat belts.

Meanwhile, of the eight states with school-bus, seat-belt laws, California, Florida, New Jersey (two-point) and Texas require students to use the restraints. California student riders also must be taught how to use the three-point restraints “in an age-appropriate manner.” New York (two-point) allows individual school boards to decide if they will provide lap belts on buses.

Nevada passed its three-point law in June 2017, and Diana Hollander, state director of transportation at the Nevada Department of Education, said requirements that students use the restraints will be written into regulation before the mandated goes into effect for the 2019-2020 school year.

California and Florida law stipulate that transportation providers first allocate lap-shoulder belts on elementary-school routes. Both state laws and the one in New Jersey also protect any rider, school district or organization operating a school bus from being ticketed for not wearing seat belts.

Texas school districts must require students to wear their three-point seat belts on buses equipped with them, and they may develop a disciplinary policy to enforce seat belt usage. Texas law also requires student training on the lap-shoulder systems.

Nevada will begin requiring all new school buses in operation by July 1, 2019 be equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts. Arkansas also has a law on lap-shoulder seat belts but requires local voters to approve property tax increases to pay for them.

Individually, local school districts in other states may voluntarily install seat belts. The National Congress on School Transportation in 2005 passed a resolution that urged the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to change the federal regulations to only allow lap-shoulder seat belts in school buses 10,000 pounds GVWR and less. NHTSA’s revised FMVSS 222 published in 2010 requires these three-point restraint systems in small school buses while leaving to school districts and states the decision on requiring three-point belts on school buses over the 10,000-pound GVWR threshold.

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