DES MOINES — Thursday, the Iowa State Board of Education adopted new rules that would require lap/shoulder seat belts on all new school buses bought by school districts and state-accredited nonpublic schools.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Bob Beatty, transportation director at Creston Community School District.
The rules must now go to the Legislative Rules Committee and are anticipated to be in place by Oct. 2. However, CCSD has been proactive on the safety matter and ordered its first 78 passenger bus with lap/shoulder seat belts in July.
Beatty said the 26 buses currently within Creston’s fleet are grandfathered in under the new rules, however, the district is on track to replace one bus a year until all are replaced.
Department of Education Transportation Director, Max Christensen, told the state board it will take some time before all buses have seat belts as the typical lifespan of a school bus in Iowa is at least 15 years.
“So we would probably be looking at probably 12 to 15 years before every school bus would probably have lap shoulder belts,” he said.
A state board member, who used to be a bus driver, asked if there is a concern about young kids being able to get out of the belts after an accident.
Beatty said safety is always a concern, but each driver will have a seat belt cutter and safety procedures will be implemented.
“It’s a concern, but at least they aren’t flying around and hitting people if there is an accident,” said Beatty. “Of course, we always hope we are not in one of those accidents, but you just never know when that may happen.”
When asked how seat belt use would be enforced among 78 students, Beatty said it’s going to be a change and an adjustment for everyone.
“It’s our hope that most of these kids are used to buckling up and it’s not going to be a big adjustment for them to get into their seat belts and out of their seat belts,” he said.
The Iowa rule states the estimated cost impact for adding a three-point lap/shoulder belt per seating position is $123. The average school bus capacity purchased in Iowa from 2016-2018 was 68 passengers. Based on that calculation, the report added that the additional cost to equip an average school bus with the lap-and-shoulder belts would be $8,364.
Other safety features include one additional stop arm per bus, hand rails, exterior boardinig lights and fire-resistant crash barriers between the front and bus driver seats.
The change in the seat belt rule was part of an overall review of bus rules and came following a public hearing on the issue in June.