Bus Seat Belts and Federal Preemption
Bus seat belts could well make the difference between life and death in a bus crash.
In the 2011 case of Doomes v. Best Transit Corporation, the New York Court of Appeals noted that this state law claim premised upon the absence of seat belts in this commercial bus was not preempted by federal law either expressly or impliedly.
Express preemption may exist where there is plain language in the statute indicating that the federal government intends to fully occupy this field. Implied preemption may exist where the federal statute is so broad that it may be properly inferred that Congress wished to fully occupy the field or, in the alternative, where state law conflicts with federal law. Such a conflict can be found where it would be impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal law or where the state law is an obstacle to the accomplishment of the federal purpose.
In regards to this particular bus accident case, the Court noted that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do require the driver’s seat to have a seat belt but do not require the seat belt on passenger seats. These standards were promulgated under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which does expressly state in conjunction with the preemption provision that common law claims are preserved.
The Court of Appeals, in this instance, concluded that there clearly is no express federal preemption and likewise no implied preemption since it is not impossible for a bus manufacturer to comply with the federal standard requiring a driver’s seat belt and also to comply with the common law claim that seat belts should have been installed for passengers.