New federal regulations will require that seatbelts be installed on all medium and large sized buses (over 4,536 kg) which travel on the highway. Studies have shown that wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of ejection, and thus lowers the potential risk of serious injury in the event of severe collision, including roll over. The requirement will apply to all buses manufactured after Sept 1st, 2020.
While the federal government can mandate installation of seatbelts, it is the provincial governments who govern the use of seatbelts. Thus, while the federal regulations will require that the seatbelts be installed and available to use, absent any provincial regulations, their use will be voluntary.
These regulations also raise the question of who would be responsible for ensuring passengers on buses are using seatbelts, in the event that their use is mandated by the province? The case law seems to suggest that the adult passenger would be responsible for their own safety and buckling up when riding the bus. In Stewart v Duoro-Dummer (Township) 2018 ONSC 4009, a taxi driver was not required to ensure that an intoxicated passenger fastened their seat belt.
But what about children? The law does require that adults ensure that minors fasten their seatbelts when riding in vehicles. It is unclear at this time who exactly will bear the responsibility of ensuring that minors riding highway buses are buckled up.
As far as school buses go, they are not captured by the new federal regulations mandating installation of school buses. School buses have been researched and designed specifically to protect children in the event of a collision through the use of compartmentalization (padded high-back seats placed closely together). However, school buses may install seat belts voluntarily.
The Canada Safety Council actually suggests that installation of seat belts on school buses may be less safe for children. They report that installation of seatbelts would require that the seats be firmer, which would be less safe for children who are not buckled up in the event of a collision. While regulations may be made to require them to fasten seatbelts, practically speaking, when a bus driver is transporting up to 70 children it is simply not feasible to ensure that they are all wearing their seatbelts at all times.
It remains to be seen has much of an impact the requirement for installation of seat belts will have. People have become accustomed to not wearing seatbelts on buses, and absent any provincial regulations requiring their use, their installation may do little to improve safety.