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School Bus Safety 

Posted on October 25th, 2020 by Oddo & Babat, P.C.

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Over the past several years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) met with the National Association for Pupil Transportation has changed its position regarding the use of seat belts on school buses. While the NHTSA’s position on this issue has been unclear in the past, it has now affirmatively stated that all school buses should be equipped with three-point seat belts. The NHTSA has also requested that agencies, state and local governments, and school bus manufacturers all aid in implementing this policy.

Three-Step Approach
The NHTSA reported that it will take a three-step approach to achieving its goal of making seat belts on school buses available to children. First, the agency announced a commitment to undertake additional research not only on school bus seat belts, but on school bus safety in general. Second, the NHTSA agreed to work with safety groups in order to address any financial barriers to installing seat belts on all school buses. Finally, the agency’s representative stated that the NHTSA plans to work closely with the six states that currently require seat belts on school buses in order to learn from their insights and recommendations concerning a potential national mandate.

Although the NHTSA has taken important steps towards ensuring seat belt use on school buses, the agency must still begin a rulemaking process in order to make the seat belt mandate a reality.

Current Laws
More than 30 states in the U.S. have considered passing laws that would require all school buses to have seat belts. Unfortunately, only six states have actually passed those laws. These states are California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

For the states that have passed the laws, the law only applies to school buses designed to carry a certain number of passengers and that were manufactured after a certain year. This means that even in these six states, there are many vehicles that are not equipped with seat belts.  

Liability
Most states grant immunity from liability to school districts when a child chooses not to use a seat belt on a bus that is equipped with the safety device. In order to overcome this immunity, an injured party would need to show that the students did not receive age-appropriate instruction on how to use the seat belt. Otherwise, school districts may be held liable for injuries sustained by a child in an accident if the driver was negligent or improperly trained.

Similarly, if a school bus is improperly maintained, and as a result, a mechanical problem went unnoticed and later caused an accident, the driver and the school may be held responsible. If the driver was not at fault and the child was injured while wearing a seat belt, but the device was somehow defective, a guardian may also be able to recover under the theory of product liability.

If your child has been injured while traveling on a school bus, you may have a basis for a personal injury suit. Please contact a lawyer, like a personal injury lawyer from Johnston Martineau, LLP, for a consultation today.

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