NHTSA regulations require that all small school buses (10,000 lb. or less gross vehicle weight rating) sold in the United States be equipped with lap/shoulder belts at the drivers seating position and at the right front passengers seating position (if any) and with lap belts or lap/shoulder belts at all other seating positions. At this time, however, manufacturers only offer lap belts at passenger seating positions. A passive system of occupant protection called compartmentalization is provided in large school buses and lap belts are not required, but they are available as an option. Compartmentalization provides occupant crash protection through a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have high energy-absorbing seat backs. If you are buying a large school bus that will be used to transport pre-school age children in CSRSs, you will want to order lap-belt-ready seats (reinforced seats that come with lap belts) in each seating position that will hold a CSRS. When ordering lap-belt-ready seats be sure to specify that they must meet the requirements set forth in FMVSS 209, Seat Belt Assemblies, and FMVSS 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages.
Regardless of the size of the school bus being purchased, you need to order the correct lap belts to properly secure a CSRS. It is important that the non-adjustable end of the lap belt does not extend more than one or two inches from the seat bight (where the seat cushion meets the seat back). A non-adjustable end of the lap belt extending farther than one or two inches from the seat bight may cause the belt buckle to rest on the child safety seat frame and prevent the lap belt from being pulled tightly. This causes the lap belt to loosen as the bus moves.
The positioning of the lap belts is another important consideration. It is very difficult to tighten a lap belt when you have to place your hand between a child safety seat and the wall of a school bus or between two child safety seats. To prevent this, the non-adjustable end of the lap belts needs to be positioned in the center of the seat and at the aisle. Placing the short non-adjustable end at the aisle also eliminates a long seat belt from hanging in the aisle and potentially tripping passengers.
Make sure the lap belt does not have a built-in retractor that would prevent a child safety seat from being properly secured. A retractor will prohibit you from properly threading the belt through the path of the CSRS.
New Universal Attachment System
By September 1, 2002, all small school buses will be required to come equipped with a universal child safety seat attachment system in two seating positions (FMVSS 225 Child Restraint Anchorage Systems). School bus manufacturers may offer the system as an option for all seating positions in both small and large school buses.
This universal attachment system will greatly simplify child safety seat installation and use and will protect children by keeping the seats secured tightly in vehicles. On a school bus, the system will consist of two lower anchorages. Each will be a rigid, round rod or bar located at the seat bight. As of September 1, 2002, each newly manufactured child safety seat will have a buckle, or other connector that can snap into the anchorage bars in the vehicle. All child safety seats sold with the new anchorage system will also continue to be able to be secured in any vehicle using the vehicles lap or lap/shoulder belt.
All child safety seats manufactured after September 1, 1999, have an attachment for a tether strap at the top of the seat that is used to enhance the proper securement of the seat in a passenger vehicle. In a school bus, however, a tether anchorage is not required, and child safety seats must be secured without a tether strap.