School Buses

Overview

The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road—your child is much safer taking a bus to and from school than traveling by car. Although four to six school-age children die each year on school transportation vehicles, that’s less than one percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide. NHTSA believes school buses should be as safe as possible. That’s why our safety standards for school buses are above and beyond those for regular buses.

The Topic

Bus Safety

School Bus Safety Infographics

Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car. That’s because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road; they’re designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries; and in every State, stop-arm laws protect children from other motorists.

  • Different by Design: School buses are designed so that they’re highly visible and include safety features such as flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors and stop-sign arms. They also include protective seating, high crush standards and rollover protection features.
  • Protected by the Law: Laws protect students who are getting off and on a school bus by making it illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while dropping off or picking up passengers, regardless of the direction of approach.

Seat Belts on School Buses

Seat belts have been required on passenger cars since 1968; and 49 States and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring the use of seat belts in passenger cars and light trucks. There is no question that seat belts play an important role in keeping passengers safe in these vehicles. But school buses are different by design, including a different kind of safety restraint system that works extremely well.

Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passenger cars and light trucks do. Because of these differences, bus passengers experience much less crash force than those in passenger cars, light trucks and vans.

NHTSA decided the best way to provide crash protection to passengers of large school buses is through a concept called “compartmentalization.” This requires that the interior of large buses protect children without them needing to buckle up. Through compartmentalization, children are protected from crashes by strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs.

Small school buses (with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less) must be equipped with lap and/or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions. Since the sizes and weights of small school buses are closer to those of passenger cars and trucks, seat belts in those vehicles are necessary to provide occupant protection.

The Topic

Bus Stop Safety

The greatest risk to your child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one. Before your child goes back to school or starts school for the first time, it’s important for you and your child to know traffic safety rules. Teach your child to follow these practices to make school bus transportation safer.

For Parents

Safety Starts at the Bus Stop

Your child should arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Visit the bus stop and show your child where to wait for the bus: at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb. Remind your child that the bus stop is not a place to run or play.

Get On and Off Safely

When the school bus arrives, your child should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay before approaching the bus door. Your child should use the handrails to avoid falling.

Use Caution Around the Bus

Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her. If your child drops something near the school bus, like a ball or book, the safest thing is for your child to tell the bus driver right away. Your child should not try to pick up the item, because the driver might not be able to see him/her.

For Drivers

Make school bus transportation safer for everyone by following these practices:

  • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
  • When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
  • Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in neighborhood.
  • Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
  • Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
  • Learn and obey the school bus laws in your State, as well as the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions:
    • Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
    • Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
The Topic

School Bus Regulations

NHTSA’S ROLE

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responsible for establishing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries that result from motor vehicle crashes. Because NHTSA believes school buses should be as safe as possible, we have established minimum safety standards for school buses that are above and beyond those for regular buses. Consistent with the 1974 Congressional mandate for school bus safety, NHTSA believes safety standards requiring higher levels of safety performance for school buses are appropriate.

FAQs: SCHOOL BUS REGULATIONS

The following FAQs will help you understand how NHTSA’s regulations define school buses, multifunction school activity buses, school-related events, and much more.

For the purposes of NHTSA’s school bus regulations, a school bus is a “bus” that is sold or introduced into interstate commerce for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events. A bus is a motor vehicle that has capacity of 11 or more people (including the driver). This definition can include vans, but does not include buses operated as common carriers in urban transportation.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act) requires any person selling or leasing a new school bus to sell or lease a bus that meets all FMVSSs applicable to school buses.

In addition to NHTSA’s Federal definition of school bus, a State or school district may have a definition for school bus that differs from NHTSA’s definition, but that would not affect NHTSA’s requirements. The State definition determines which vehicles are subject to the State operational requirements for school buses. The definition for NHTSA’s school bus regulations, which determines whether a new bus sold or leased for pupil transportation must be certified as meeting Federal school bus standards, is unaffected by State definitions.

Under NHTSA’s regulations, a multifunction school activity bus (MFSAB) is defined as “a school bus whose purposes do not include transporting students to and from home or school bus stops.” An MFSAB must meet all FMVSSs applicable to school buses except those requiring the installation of traffic control devices (flashing lights and stop arms). If a new school bus will not be used to transport students to and from home or school bus stops, an MFSAB may be sold. If a new school bus will be used to transport students between school and home, or between school and school bus stops, an MFSAB must not be sold.

The Safety Act defines a school bus as a bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary students to or from school or related events. Based on this definition, NHTSA considers any preprimary, primary, or secondary school a “school” for purposes of NHTSA’s school bus regulations.

NHTSA interprets “school” in the context of its regulations not to include daycares, childcare centers, or preschools, including Head Start Programs. NHTSA does not regulate, under our school bus regulations, the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to and from these facilities.

In addition, organizations providing religious instruction, such as Sunday school, are not considered “schools” under NHTSA’s school bus regulations. Athletic teams that have no connection with a school are also not considered schools.

A school-related event is any activity sponsored by a school, whether on or off school grounds. These may include, but are not limited to, sports events, band concerts, field trips, and competitions such as debate or chess tournaments. Athletic teams that have no connection with a school are also not considered schools.

Yes. The definition of “school” in the context of NHTSA’s school bus regulations does not differentiate between private and public schools. Schools include all preprimary, primary and secondary schools, including private and parochial schools.

No. The school bus requirements do not apply to the transportation of post-secondary school students such as college students, adult education participants, or post-high school vocational students.

No. NHTSA interprets “school” not to include daycares, childcare centers, or preschools, including Head Start programs. NHTSA does not regulate, under our school bus regulations, the types of vehicles that may be sold for the purpose of transporting children to and from these facilities.

While NHTSA does not regulate the types of vehicles that may be sold for transporting children to Head Start programs, Head Start has regulations regarding vehicle use for its programs. Head Start programs should consult with the Office of Head Start if they have questions regarding compliance with those requirements.

Federal law regulates the manufacture and sale of new vehicles, but does not regulate vehicle use. Each State has the authority to determine how school children must be transported. State law should be consulted for determining use requirements.

Liability for using a non-complying bus to transport students is a matter addressed by State law. Schools, school districts, and other student transportation providers should consult their attorneys or insurance carriers regarding liability concerns.

While NHTSA does not regulate vehicle use, NHTSA has issued recommendations for States on various operational aspects of school bus and pupil transportation safety programs. Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 17, Pupil Transportation Safety, recommends that school children be transported to and from school and related events in school buses. Each State decides to what extent it will follow Guideline No. 17.

Basically, the answer is yes. Under NHTSA’s school bus regulations, entities selling a new bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport students to preprimary, primary, or secondary school must sell a new “school bus.” The entity purchasing the bus, which will be providing the transportation, is not relevant for determining whether a school bus must be sold. The determining factor is whether the bus will likely be used significantly for pupil transportation to or from school or related events.

For example, if a church group purchases a new bus, and one of the purposes for purchasing the bus is to provide student transportation to school-related sporting events on multiple evenings in the school week, the person selling the new bus must sell it as a school bus. This is because the new bus was sold for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events. The same is true of day care providers who also provide transportation to or from school. NHTSA’s school bus regulations are also applicable to school transportation contractors who are purchasing new buses.

The Safety Act prohibits a school or school system from purchasing or leasing a new 15-passenger van if it will be used significantly by or on behalf of the school or school system to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary school students to or from school or related events, unless the van complies with FMVSSs prescribed for school buses or MFSABs. A school in violation of this requirement may be subject to substantial civil penalties under the Safety Act.

Federal law regulates the manufacture and sale of new vehicles, but does not regulate vehicle use. Each State has the authority to determine how school children must be transported. State law should be consulted for determining use requirements.

NHTSA’s school bus regulations require that if a new bus is sold and is likely to be used significantly to transport students to preprimary, primary, or secondary schools, a “school bus” must be sold. However, NHTSA’s school bus regulations do not prohibit the use of 15-passenger vans for such transport, or the sale of used 15-passenger vans intended for such transport. If you choose to use a 15-passenger van, consult NHTSA’s safety recommendations when operating a 15-passenger van.

Because school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country, NHTSA strongly recommends all buses used to transport school children are certified as meeting NHTSA's school bus safety standards.

NHTSA’s school bus regulations require that if a new bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport preprimary, primary, or secondary school students to or from school or school-related events is sold, it must be certified to the Federal school bus safety standards. Persons selling or leasing a new school bus must sell or lease a bus meeting the Federal school bus safety standards.

If a dealer sells or leases a vehicle that does not meet the Federal school bus safety standards, and the dealer knows or has reason to know that the bus was to be used significantly to transport students, the dealer may be subject to substantial civil penalties under the Safety Act.

Many entities in addition to schools provide school transportation, including child care centers, religious groups, community groups, and school transportation contractors. As a result, we advise dealers, prior to sale, to inquire whether buses purchased by these groups, or other entities who the seller believes may be purchasing the vehicle for pupil transportation, will be used significantly to transport students. NHTSA encourages dealers to obtain written confirmation from the purchaser that the vehicle will not be used in this manner for their records.

No. State and local governments establish policy for student transportation, including how school buses should be identified. However, NHTSA provides recommendations to the States on operational aspects of school bus and pupil transportation safety programs in the form of Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 17, Pupil Transportation Safety. Among other matters, Guideline 17 recommends that school buses be painted “National School Bus Glossy Yellow” and have other uniform identifying characteristics. The uniformity of school bus appearance helps motorists identify the vehicles as school buses.

Other School Transportation Regulations

  • Use of Nonconforming Vehicles for School Transportation

    Federal requirements regulate new vehicles that carry 11 or more people, which are sold for transporting students to or from school or school-related events. Those vehicles are required to meet all FMVSSs for school buses. The FMVSSs applicable to school buses require that school buses have stop arms along with many other safety features over and above those of other passenger vehicles. Under 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., a vehicle is regarded as being sold for use as a school bus if, at the time of sale, it is evident that the vehicle is likely to be significantly used to transport students to or from school or school-related events. This statute applies to school buses sold to public and parochial schools. For example, a dealer selling a new 15-passenger van to be used for school transportation must ensure that the van is certified as meeting our school bus FMVSSs.

    Federal regulations do not prohibit the use of vans by schools, but require any van (with a capacity of more than 10) sold or leased for use as a school bus to meet the safety standards applicable to school buses. Federal regulations apply only to the manufacture and sale/lease of new vehicles. Each State prescribes its own regulations that apply to the use of any vehicle that is used to transport students.

  • The Number of People Who Can Safely Sit on a School Bus Seat

    Federal regulation does not specify the number of people who can sit on a school bus seat. The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus. The manufacturers use this number, which is based on sitting three small elementary school students per typical 39-inch school bus seat, in the calculations for determining the gross vehicle weight rating and the number of emergency exits. School transportation providers generally determine the number of people they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally, they fit three smaller elementary school students or two adult high school students into a typical 39-inch school bus seat.

    NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 222, "School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection" requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection so that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs. Persons not sitting or sitting partially outside of the school bus seats will not be afforded the occupant protection provided by the school bus seats.

The Topic

For Professionals

School Transportation

  • 2015 Traffic Safety Facts: School Transportation-Related Crashes (PDF, 343 KB) – This fact sheet published in 2017 contains school transportation-related crash data. A school-transportation-related crash is a crash that involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.
  • Best Practices Guide: Reducing the Illegal Passing of School Buses – This guide helps school transportation professionals reduce illegal passing of school buses by examining the problem and presenting a model solution and real-life successes.
  • Child Safety Restraint Systems (CSRS) on School Buses National Training – These six training videos demonstrate the steps necessary for school bus drivers and school bus monitors to properly install three types of CSRSs (rear-facing, front-facing, and safety vest) on a school bus seat, as well as the proper placement of a child in the CSRS.
  • FAQs: What You Need to Know About School Bus Regulations – These frequently asked questions help school transportation professionals, parents and others understand how NHTSA’s regulations define school buses, multifunction school activity buses, school-related events, and much more.
  • School Bus Driver In-Service Safety Series – This guide developed in 2010 provides refresher training in nine lesson modules on driving a school bus. This is an in-service training program for experienced school bus drivers, not a training program for new drivers.
  • School Bus Driver In-Service Safety Series: Administrator Guide (PDF, 265 KB) – This guide developed in 2011 provides school administrators an overview of the School Bus Driver In-Service Safety Series, a description of the material, presentation methods used during the series, and communication skills.
  • School Bus Driver In-Service Safety Series: Pupil Transportation Supervisor Guide (PDF, 344 KB) – This guide developed in 2011 provides pupil transportation supervisors tools to make sure their school bus drivers are as competent as possible. Though this training program is produced by NHTSA, when and how it is used will be determined solely by pupil transportation providers.
  • School Transportation Regulations: Nonconforming Vehicles and School Bus Seats – Federal regulations do not prohibit the use of vans by schools, but require any van (with a capacity of more than 10) sold or leased for use as a school bus meet the safety standards applicable to school buses. NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion. Selecting
  • School Bus Stop Locations: A Guide for School Transportation Professionals (PDF, 918 KB) – This guide developed in 2010 offers school transportation professionals steps for the designation of school bus stops and strategies to support safe pedestrian behavior by students between their homes and their bus stops.

Research

  • 2015 Traffic Safety Facts: School Transportation-Related Crashes (PDF, 343 KB) – This report sheet published in 2017 contains school transportation-related crash data. A school-transportation-related crash is a crash that involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.
  • FAQs: What You Need to Know About School Bus Regulations – These frequently asked questions help school transportation professionals, parents and others understand how NHTSA’s regulations define school buses, multifunction school activity buses, school-related events, and much more.
  • School Bus Seat Belts and Carryover Effects in Elementary School Children (PDF, 3.63 KB) – This report published in 2009 explores the proposition that a lack of seat belts on school buses increases the likelihood that elementary school children will not use seat belts in personal vehicles.
  • School Transportation Regulations: Nonconforming Vehicles and School Bus Seats – Federal regulations do not prohibit the use of vans by schools, but require any van (with a capacity of more than 10) sold or leased for use as a school bus meet the safety standards applicable to school buses. NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion.

Traffic Safety

  • 2015 Traffic Safety Facts: School Transportation-Related Crashes (PDF, 343 KB) – This fact sheet published in 2017 contains school transportation-related crash data. A school-transportation-related crash is a crash that involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.
  • Best Practices Guide: Reducing the Illegal Passing of School Buses – This guide helps school transportation professionals reduce illegal passing of school buses by examining the problem and presenting a model solution and real-life successes.
  • FAQs: What You Need to Know About School Bus Regulations – These frequently asked questions help school transportation professionals, parents and others understand how NHTSA’s regulations define school buses, multifunction school activity buses, school-related events, and much more.
  • School Transportation Regulations: Nonconforming Vehicles and School Bus Seats – Federal regulations do not prohibit the use of vans by schools, but require any van (with a capacity of more than 10) sold or leased for use as a school bus meet the safety standards applicable to school buses. NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion.

Additional Resources