Sending a child on a school bus is enough to make any parent worry. In California, some parents may have more reason for concern, as not all school buses are equipped with seat belts. That is all going to change however, as a new bill was signed into law in August. The bill, AB 1798, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown and will require all school buses to have seat belts with both shoulder and lap belts by the year 2035.
In the past, it was thought that school buses do not need seat belts because of their design. In 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claimed that seat belts on school buses are unnecessary due to the fact that children are protected against crashes that occur at the front of the bus. School bus seats are already cushioned and have high, padded seat backs with impact-absorbing steel. At the time, the NHTSA deemed these designs to be enough to protect children in the event of a crash.
In 2015 though, the NHTSA realized that while children may be safe from frontal crashes on a school bus, there are other types of crashes that are unsafe for children, particularly if they are not belted in. These include rollovers and side-impact crashes.
This seems to be something that California was already aware of. Prior to both NHTSA reports, former Governor Gray Davis signed a bill in 1999 that required all new school buses to have seat belts by the years 2004 or 2005, depending on the size of the bus. Due to that law, only school buses that were purchased before 1999 will be affected by the new law.
According to the new law, school buses can either be retrofitted with seat belts, or new school buses that have seat belts can be purchased. Each new school bus cost approximately $300,000. It is unlikely however, that new school buses will need to be purchased. School buses only have a life of about 30 years, and so those older than the 1999 bill will likely already be out of service by the 2035 deadline the new bill dictates.
“This bill shows the good common sense of California’s legislature,” says Larry Eisenberg of the Law Offices of Eisenberg & Associates in Irvine, California. “We should be doing whatever we can to keep our children safe on the way to and from school. Installing seat belts on school buses is a very logical way to do it.”