Quick guide to school bus seat belt regulations

A recent change in the law requires all rear seated passengers aged 14 and over on school buses to wear a seat belt where one is fitted (new Regulation 5 of the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993).  The law applies to all buses and coaches (including minbuses) with more than 8 passenger seats.  Front seated passengers are already obliged to wear a seat belt.

The new law is laid down in the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 which came into force on 18 September and amended existing legislation including the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993 and the Road Traffic Act 1988.

What about children on school buses?

Children are split into 2 categories namely 1) those aged 14 and over, and 2) those under 14.

Children aged 14 and over.

Children aged 14 and over fall under the new general obligation imposed on all passengers to wear a rear seat belt where one is fitted.  

Children under 14.

New section 15(3)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 seems to apply the same obligation on children under 14. 

It states:

" 15(3) Except as provided by regulations, where—
(a) a child under the age of three years is in the rear of a motor vehicle, or
(b) a child of or over that age but under the age of fourteen years is in the rear of a motor vehicle and any seat belt is fitted in the rear of that vehicle,

a person must not without reasonable excuse drive the vehicle on a road unless the child is wearing a seat belt in conformity with regulations."

However, new Regulation 9 of the 1993 Regulations exempts "large buses" from the prohibition set out in setion 15 (3).   A "large bus" is defined by regulation 2 of the 1993 Regulations as being:

a motor vehicle which—
(a) is constructed or adapted for use for the carriage of passengers,
(b) has more than eight seats in addition to the driver's seat,
(c) has four or more wheels,
(d) has a maximum design speed exceeding 25 kilometres per hour, and
(e) has a maximum laden weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes;

The majority of school buses will fall into this category.  Accordingly, if the school bus is a "large bus", school children over 3 but under 14 do not have to wear a seat belt.

This means we have the rather odd situation of children aged 14 years and over having to wear rear seat belts (where ones are fitted),  but those under 14 on the school bus not having to wear a seat belt!  The Department for Transport have confirmed that there will be consultation on the issue of responsibility for children under the age of 14 years before regulations are introduced to include them in the seat belt wearing category.

Passenger notification

The 2006 Regulations introduced an obligation on bus operators to advise passengers they ought to be wearing seat belts where ones are fitted.  New Section 15B of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states  that where a bus is equipped with passenger seat belts, an operator must take all reasonable steps to ensure that every passenger is notified that he or she is required to wear a seat belt when he is in a seat that has a seat belt and the bus is in motion (Section 15B(1)).

Examples of how an operator can notify passengers are given in Section 15B(2) and include things like an official announcement (by the driver), an audio visual presentation, or a sign "prominently displayed at each passenger seat equipped with a belt".  The form of sign in shown in Schedule 2A of the Act. 

It is an offence to fail to give the appropriate notification and the penalty is a maximum fine of £2,500. 

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.