Are School Buses Safe?


Highlighting Washington State School Bus Seat Belt Laws

It’s early in the morning and raining so you give your kids a ride to the bus stop before you begin your morning commute. You always worry about the safety of your precious children but they always seem to make it to and from school safely so the worry eventually drifts from your mind.

“Breaking News. Overturned school bus. Stay tuned for more details.”

You start to panic. Are those my kids? Wait a second… does their bus even have seat belts? Panic turns to extreme fear and your heart drops into your stomach. You start calling their school to find out if they’re okay.

“If you’re on the roads right now, make sure to stay out of the way to let the ambulances through. We have about 21 kids in the ditch and some are trapped.”

The school confirmed your kids were on the bus. You race to the scene of the accident and you find your daughter unconscious next to the dead bodies of her peers.

That was the reality for Steve Forman, on March 29, 2006. His daughter Allison was one of 21 West Brook High School soccer team members who were injured in an overturned bus accident while the team was in route to a game. Allison’s friends, Ashley Brown, 16, and Alicia Bonura, 18 both died from the accident that day.

Would seat belts have changed this scenario and prevented fatalities? Steve Forman and Brad Brown (Ashley’s father) both strongly believe so. On September 1, 2010 a Texas law went into effect requiring seat belts because Brown, Foreman and other Texas parents helped pass “Ashley and Alicia’s Law”, requiring seat belts on all school buses purchased on or after September 1, 2010 and on all charter buses purchased on or after September 1, 2011.

The implemented law is great for Texas, but you may be shocked to find out that there aren’t laws requiring the use of seatbelts on school buses in Washington State.

You will find the current child passenger restraint requirements for Washington State below. Highlighted in yellow is the citation which excludes school buses from seat belt laws.

RCW 46.61.687

Child passenger restraint required — Conditions — Exceptions — Penalty for violation — Dismissal — Noncompliance not negligence — Immunity. (Effective June 1, 2007.)

(1) Whenever a child who is less than sixteen years of age is being transported in a motor vehicle that is in operation and that is required by RCW 46.37.510 to be equipped with a safety belt system in a passenger seating position, or is being transported in a neighborhood electric vehicle that is in operation, the driver of the vehicle shall keep the child properly restrained as follows:

(a) A child must be restrained in a child restraint system, if the passenger seating position equipped with a safety belt system allows sufficient space for installation, until the child is eight years old, unless the child is four feet nine inches or taller. The child restraint system must comply with standards of the United States department of transportation and must be secured in the vehicle in accordance with instructions of the vehicle manufacturer and the child restraint system manufacturer.

(b) A child who is eight years of age or older or four feet nine inches or taller shall be properly restrained with the motor vehicle’s safety belt properly adjusted and fastened around the child’s body or an appropriately fitting child restraint system.

(c) The driver of a vehicle transporting a child who is under thirteen years old shall transport the child in the back seat positions in the vehicle where it is practical to do so.

(2) Enforcement of subsection (1) of this section is subject to a visual inspection by law enforcement to determine if the child restraint system in use is appropriate for the child’s individual height, weight, and age. The visual inspection for usage of a child restraint system must ensure that the child restraint system is being used in accordance with the instruction of the vehicle and the child restraint system manufacturers. The driver of a vehicle transporting a child who is under thirteen years old shall transport the child in the back seat positions in the vehicle where it is practical to do so.

(3) A person violating subsection (1) of this section may be issued a notice of traffic infraction under chapter 46.63 RCW. If the person to whom the notice was issued presents proof of acquisition of an approved child passenger restraint system or a child booster seat, as appropriate, within seven days to the jurisdiction issuing the notice and the person has not previously had a violation of this section dismissed, the jurisdiction shall dismiss the notice of traffic infraction.

(4) Failure to comply with the requirements of this section shall not constitute negligence by a parent or legal guardian. Failure to use a child restraint system shall not be admissible as evidence of negligence in any civil action.

(5) This section does not apply to: (a) For hire vehicles, (b) vehicles designed to transport sixteen or less passengers, including the driver, operated by auto transportation companies, as defined in RCW 81.68.010, (c) vehicles providing customer shuttle service between parking, convention, and hotel facilities, and airport terminals, and (d) school buses.

(6) As used in this section, “child restraint system” means a child passenger restraint system that meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards set forth in 49 C.F.R. 571.213.

(7) The requirements of subsection (1) of this section do not apply in any seating position where there is only a lap belt available and the child weighs more than forty pounds.

(8)(a) Except as provided in (b) of this subsection, a person who has a current national certification as a child passenger safety technician and who in good faith provides inspection, adjustment, or educational services regarding child passenger restraint systems is not liable for civil damages resulting from any act or omission in providing the services, other than acts or omissions constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(b) The immunity provided in this subsection does not apply to a certified child passenger safety technician who is employed by a retailer of child passenger restraint systems and who, during his or her hours of employment and while being compensated, provides inspection, adjustment, or educational services regarding child passenger restraint systems.

[2005 c 415 § 1; 2005 c 132 § 1; 2003 c 353 § 5; 2000 c 190 § 2; 1994 c 100 § 1; 1993 c 274 § 1; 1987 c 330 § 745; 1983 c 215 § 2.]


Reviser’s note: This section was amended by 2005 c 132 § 1 and by 2005 c 415 § 1, each without reference to the other. Both amendments are incorporated in the publication of this section under RCW 1.12.025(2). For rule of construction, see RCW 1.12.025(1).

Effective date — 2005 c 132 § 1: “Section 1 of this act takes effect June 1, 2007.” [2005 c 132 § 3.]

Effective date — 2003 c 353: See note following RCW 46.04.320.

Intent — 2000 c 190: “The legislature recognizes that fewer than five percent of all drivers use child booster seats for children over the age of four years. The legislature also recognizes that seventy-one percent of deaths resulting from car accidents could be eliminated if every child under the age of sixteen used an appropriate child safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt. The legislature further recognizes the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations that promote the use of booster seats to increase the safety of children under eight years of age. Therefore, it is the legislature’s intent to decrease deaths and injuries to children by promoting safety education and injury prevention measures, as well as increasing public awareness on ways to maximize the protection of children in vehicles.” [2000 c 190 § 1.]

Short title — 2000 c 190: “This act may be known and cited as the Anton Skeen Act.” [2000 c 190 § 5.]


Effective date — 2000 c 190: “This act takes effect July 1, 2002.” [2000 c 190 § 6.]

Construction — Application of rules — Severability — 1987 c 330: See notes following RCW 28B.12.050.

Severability — 1983 c 215: See note following RCW 46.37.505.


Standards for child passenger restraint systems: RCW 46.37.505. Even after a serious bus accident in Quincy, Washington in March 2012 (see left image) where a school bus rolled over with 38 students on board, school bus seat belt laws have not changed in Washington State. In the Quincy accident the bus driver and one student were critically injured and three were seriously injured. While some believe that while seat belt laws may be lacking, others believe school buses are still some of the safest transportation methods available for students.

Lynda Tran of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NSTSA) told ABC News, “We feel strongly that school buses continue to be the safest way to transport students. They are even safer than their parents’ cars.”

The government required higher seatbacks on new buses in 2009 for greater protection but as far as seat belts, that decision has been left up to individual school districts.

According to the NHTSA, about 800 students are killed in motor vehicle accidents during normal school traveling hours each year with only 20 of the deaths school bus related. While 20 deaths annually may seem like a low number initially, the psychological impact of losing just one child affects an entire community and even a nation.

Phillips Law Firm supports making school buses as safe as possible. What are your ideas on improving school bus safety?

At Phillips Law Firm our accident attorneys are dedicated to getting you justice and compensation you deserve. If you or your child has been the unfortunate victim of a school bus accident please call Phillips Law Firm at 1-800-708-6000, we are waiting to assist you 24/7, offering a free case evaluation. Remember our no fee promise. If we do not recover anything for you, you do not owe us an attorney fee