Search Interpretations


    Mabel Moist, Transportation Supervisor
    Transportation Service Center
    Centennial School District No. 28 Jt.
    3424 S.E. 174th
    Portland, OR 97236-1235

    Dear Ms. Moist:

    This is in response responds to your January 30, 2003, letter and to your phone conversation with Chris Calamita of my staff, concerning the use of a safety vest (harness[1]) on a school bus. You stated

    that your school district is considering the use of harnesses that attach to school bus seat backs. You ask if school bus occupants must be restrained by a harness if they are seated directly behind a harness-restrained passenger.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued guidelines for the safe transport of children in school buses, it is the State that determines how school buses are to be used. We do require labels for seat-mounted harnesses sold for use on school buses to warn against unrestrained occupants sitting directly behind passengers restrained with this type of harness. As explained below, the term restrained refers to the use of any type of occupant restraint, not just a harness system.

By way of background, NHTSA is authorized under 49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq. to issue motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Generally, child restraint systems are prohibited by S5.3.1 of FMVSS No. 213 from having any means designed for attaching the system to a vehicle seat back. However, to facilitate the safe transportation of pre-school and special needs children, the agency issued an interim final rule excluding from this prohibition harnesses that are manufactured for use exclusively on school buses.[2] See 67 Federal Register 64818; October 22, 2002 (copy enclosed). We were concerned in this rulemaking, however, that a school bus seat back could be overloaded during a frontal crash by unrestrained passengers sitting in the seat immediately behind harness-restrained passengers. This overloading could result in injury to a harness-restrained passenger. To address this potential, the interim final rule amended FMVSS No. 213 to require harnesses designed for attachment to a vehicle seat back to be labeled with the following statement:

WARNING! This restraint must only be used on school bus seats. Entire seat directly behind must be unoccupied or have restrained occupants. (S5.6.1.11; emphasis added. There is also a required pictogram.)

The warning informs users that the occupants seated directly behind a harness-restrained occupant must be restrained to prevent overloading the seat back. The means of restraining the rearward occupant could include Type 1 and Type 2 seat belt assemblies and child restraint systems; it is not limited to harness systems. Any properly used occupant restraint will help prevent a passenger seated directly behind a harness-restrained child from overloading the seat back in a frontal crash and help reduce the likelihood of the associated injury.

I hope you find this information helpful. For your further information, I have also included a copy of two NHTSA publications: Guideline for the Safe Transport of Pre-school Age Children in School Buses and Choosing the Correct School Bus for Transporting Pre-school Age Children. If you have any further questions, please contact Mr. Calamita at (202) 366-0536.


Jacqueline Glassman
Chief Counsel


[1] Under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213, Child restraint systems, a harness is a combination pelvic and upper torso child restraint system that consists primarily of flexible material such as straps, webbing or similar material, and that does not include a rigid seating structure for the child. (49 CFR 571.213 S4.)

[2] The exclusion terminates on December 1, 2003. The agency is considering permanently amending FMVSS No. 213 to allow for the exclusion.