Appearance at TRAN: Supplemental Mandate Letter and on the pre-entry testing requirements



Issue/Source: School bus safety

Date: FEBRUARY 3, 2021


  • School buses in Canada have an excellent safety record and are the safest way to transport children to and from school.
  • Transport Canada continues to work with partners to find ways to make school buses even safer.
  • On February 14, 2020, the Federal, Provincial, Territorial Council of Ministers responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety released a report by the Task Force on School Bus Safety, recommending the pursuit of a series of measures to strengthen school bus safety, including:
    • Extended stop arms and infraction cameras to deter illegally passing motorists;
    • 360-degree cameras to better detect and protect children around the exterior of the bus; and
    • Automatic emergency braking to help the driver avoid collisions.
  • In response, Transport Canada has committed to develop regulations to implement these recommendations. Moving forward, Transport Canada will work with provinces and territories, and a diverse stakeholder community, to carry out the research and testing required {ATIP removed}

If pressed on seatbelts:

  • Consistent with the Task Force Report, Transport Canada is working with partners in British Columbia and Ontario to carryout school bus seatbelt pilot projects.
  • The pilot projects will run for approximately one-year, and the results will be used to inform decision-making on whether seatbelts on school buses can eventually become a viable safety measure in Canada.


School bus safety is a shared responsibility among federal and provincial/territorial governments and owners/operators. Under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, Transport Canada is responsible for establishing the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which includes specific safety requirements for buses, such as brake systems, window retention (to help prevent passengers from being ejected in the event of a rollover collision), and stability control. In addition, similar to other classes of vehicles, school buses are required to meet requirements for lighting, tires, wheels and other safety equipment. The Department works with all levels of government to keep these standards up to date, and performs tests to ensure compliance. Provinces/territories are responsible for the enforcement of safety on Canada’s roads and highways, driver and vehicle licensing, and rules of the road (e.g. speed limits).

School buses are the safest way to transport school children. Still, Transport Canada continues to work with provincial and territorial partners to find ways to make school buses even safer.

Governed by stringent regulations and standards, school buses are built to protect children (e.g. high roof crush standards, compartmentalized/padded seats, flashing lights).

Research confirms that three-point seatbelts can also provide a layer of safety in certain rare but severe school bus collision scenarios. At the same time, there are financial and operational matters that must be considered (e.g. potential seatbelt misuse, proper belt adjustment, emergency evacuations, and liability).

In July 2018, Transport Canada published regulations for the optional installation of three-point seatbelts on school buses. At present, the decision rests with owners/operators and school boards, together with provinces and territories, to determine whether to install them.

On January 21, 2019, the federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety established a Task Force on School Bus Safety mandated to review safety standards and operations, both inside and outside the bus, with an emphasis on seatbelts.

The Task Force released a preliminary report in June 2019, identifying three key areas to consider strengthening school bus safety:

  • Driver assistance (e.g. automatic emergency braking);
  • Safety Features outside the bus (e.g. measures to protect children in or near school bus loading zones, where they are most at risk); and
  • Occupant protection (e.g. three-point seatbelts).

In June 2019, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities published a report recommending the Government continue to support the work of the Task Force and its recommendations, noting that seatbelts are not the only solution to increasing school bus safety.

On February 14, 2020, the Council of Ministers responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety approved the Task Force’s final report, recommending the pursuit of safety features aimed at protecting children outside the bus, where the greatest risks exist:

1. Infraction cameras to help prevent dangerous incidents caused by passing motorists.

2. Extended stop arms to further deter motorists from passing while children are entering or leaving the bus.

3. Exterior 360° cameras as a means of better detecting/ protecting children around the exterior of the bus.

4. Automatic emergency braking to help avoid collisions with pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.

In response, Transport Canada has committed to begin developing regulations to implement these recommendations. This work is underway, and involves research and testing at the Motor Vehicle Test Centre in Blainville, Quebec, on school buses equipped with stop-arm infraction cameras, extended stop arms, exterior 360-degree cameras, and automatic emergency braking. Regulations will follow the regulatory development process, beginning with pre-publication on Let’s Talk Transportation, which took place in Fall 2020. In keeping with its mandate, the Task Force on School Bus Safety continues to meet on a regular basis to advance this work.

In parallel, the department is working with the Governments of British Columbia and Ontario to carry out school bus seatbelt pilot projects in each jurisdiction (BC: Fraser-Cascade/Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Ontario: District of Sudbury). These pilots will run for approximately one year, and involve three buses per province. The seatbelts will be installed in accordance with Transport Canada’s 2018 federal safety standards, and the results will be used to inform decision-making by the Council of Ministers with respect to the viability of school bus seatbelts in Canada.

The pilot project in British Columbia was launched in September 2020. The pilot in Ontario began in January 2021.

COVID-19 Impacts:

As the global pandemic continues, provincial/territorial governments, school boards and bus operators have adapted to various scenarios for the September 2020 return to school. While the school bus transportation systems in Canada have remained largely intact, there have been modifications such as fewer passengers and routes, together with additional COVID-19 safety measures (e.g. masking).

There continues to be risk that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could further impact the pilot projects, as provinces and operators continue to grapple with:

  • Risk reduction measures to protect against transmission (e.g. reduced student/passenger complement to account for physical distancing); and
  • Uncertainty around school closures and student/cohort/driver isolation, and impacts on student transportation.

In an effort to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in school bus operations and to protect both students and drivers, in May 2020, Transport Canada and the Task Force, issued Federal Guidance for School Bus Operations during the COVID-19 Pandemic, as well as Joint Guidance from TC and the CSA D250 School Bus Technical Committee, for those considering the installation of a driver shield to protect against COVID-19 exposure.