Every year, school buses transport more than 25 million children to and from school, according to the American School Bus Council.
Buses travel approximately 5.7 billion miles annually and students are 70 times more likely to arrive at school alive when they take the bus according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In the past few years, states have focused on two policies: Enabling districts to use cameras to catch vehicles illegally passing a stopped school bus and requiring seat belts on school buses.
School Bus Cameras
In 2017, more than 104,000 school bus drivers observed 77,972 vehicles illegally passing school buses in a single day. At that rate, more than 14 million violations would occur in a school year. From 2006-2015, 102 pedestrians under 18 were killed in school-transportation related crashes.
- Most state laws require vehicles on both sides of a road without a median to stop and remain stopped while school bus stop arms and flashing red lights are deployed.
- 24 states explicitly allow local governments or school districts to use cameras to capture images and issue tickets for drivers illegally passing stopped school buses.
School Bus Seat Belts
School buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury. According to NHTSA, on average six student passengers die in school bus crashes each year, compared to approximately 2,000 children who are killed in motor vehicle crashes annually.
- Buses are designed to protect passengers through “compartmentalization,” which includes closely spaced seats and high, energy-absorbing seat backs.
- Eight states - Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas - have laws requiring the installation of seat belts on school buses. Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas’ laws, however, are subject to appropriations or approval or denial by local jurisdictions. Iowa adopted a rule in 2019 requiring lap/shoulder belts in all new Iowa school buses.
- In May of 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended states "Enact legislation to require that all new large school buses be equipped with passenger lap/shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions."
Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National Conference of State Legislatures 2019.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2020, July 2021, by Samantha Bloch, Douglas Shinkle and Jonathon Bates.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2019, September 2020, by Samantha Bloch, Douglas Shinkle, Shelly Oren and Jonathon Bates.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2018, August 2019, by Douglas Shinkle, Annie Kitch and Kevin Pula.
- Improving School Bus Safety, NCSL LegisBrief, Dec. 2018, by Doug Shinkle.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2017, June 2018, by Amanda Essex, Douglas Shinkle, Amanda Miller and Kevin Pula.
- "School Buses; Safety and Seat Belts," "Our American States Podcast," October 2017.
- School Bus Safety Postcard, October 2017.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2016, April 2017 by Anne Teigen, Amanda Essex and Douglas Shinkle.
- School Bus Stop-Arm Camera Laws, Updated August 2017.
- "Should School Buses have Seat Belts?" June 2016 by Amanda Essex
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2015 February 2016 by Anne Teigen, Douglas Shinkle and Amanda Essex.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2014, February 2015, by Anne Teigen, Douglas Shinkle and Amanda Essex.
- "Catching Unlawful School Bus Passers With Cameras," January 2015.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2013, February 2014, by Anne Teigen and Douglas Shinkle.
- Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2012, February 2013, by Anne Teigen and Douglas Shinkle. See page 18 of PDF for school bus safety information.
- Traffic Safety and Public Health: State Legislative Action, 2011, No. 36, February 2012, by Anne Teigen and Douglas Shinkle.
- Transportation Review: School Bus Safety, August 2012 by Crystal Cook and Douglas Shinkle.
- Traffic Safety and Public Health: State Legislative Action 2009, Transportation Series No. 34, February 2010, by Melissa Savage, Anne Teigen and Nicholas Farber.