What laws apply in a school bus accident?

The law that governs commercial motor vehicles, their companies and drivers is the school-busFederal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). These regulations are found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations and govern many areas of commercial transportation, such as random and post-collision drug and alcohol screening, minimum insurance limits, hours of service requirements, maintenance and inspection of vehicles, driver qualification criteria and much more.

On the whole, school buses are not covered by the FMCSRs except for drug and alcohol testing and commercial driver’s license requirements in some circumstances. Why not? The federal regulations apply to transportation that occurs interstate—across state lines. When a transportation company never crosses state line, which is usually true with school buses, then the federal government largely defers to state law.

To make things more complicated, most states have adopted the FMCSRs, so it’s necessary to analyze what regulations apply from state-to-state.

There is also a distinction between public transportation and for-hire school buses, even if hired by a public school. Here’s a quick guide when a school bus is involved in interstate transportation:

  School to Home or Home to School Extracurricular School Activities
Public School Transportation provided by Government Entity Not subject to FMCSRs Not subject to FMCSRs
Private School Transportation of non-college students Not subject to FMCSRs Subject to FMCSRs as non-business private motor carrier of passengers
Contract Transportation of non-college students Not subject to FMCSRs Subject to FMCSRs as for-hire carrier
Private college transporting with its employees Subject to FMCSRs as non-business private motor carrier of passengers Subject to FMCSRs as non-business private motor carrier of passengers
Contract Transportation of college students Subject to FMCSRs as for-hire carrier Subject to FMCSRs as for-hire carrier


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