For the first time ever, lap and shoulder belts will be required on all new school buses purchased by Iowa school districts and state-accredited nonpublic schools beginning this fall, according to rules adopted Thursday by the State Board of Education.
The rules would apply to new buses manufactured on or after Oct. 2, 2019, a press release from the Iowa Department of Education stated. It would include new buses purchased by businesses that provide transportation services to schools on contract, according to a summary of the rule on the Iowa Department of Education website. It would not apply to buses Iowa school districts already have in their fleets.
State Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, expressed support for the rule.
“I think it’s a great safety move for our children and for students across the state,” she said.
Hanusa said she thought the requirement was overdue.
“It’s an issue I have had a number of constituents bring up to me ever since I’ve been in the Legislature,” she said. “They have been concerned that school buses do not have seat belts.”
Hanusa said she was on her way home on a school bus as a middle-school student when it was involved in a collision. It was about 5:30 p.m., because it was after Kirn burned down and Kirn and Wilson students were attending Wilson in shifts.
“We were on the viaduct, and we were hit from behind,” she said. “No one was seriously hurt but, if it was forceful enough, someone could have been hurt.”
Lap and shoulder belts add about $8,000 to the cost of a new school bus, the Department of Education press release stated. Most districts replace buses on a rotation using physical plant and equipment levy revenue or general funds.
The department proposed the new rules to the state board based on a recommendation earlier this year by a group of Iowa school transportation officials. In 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended safety belts be installed on all new school buses.
State Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, noted that the Legislature had not voted on the measure, which was “purely an administrative rule,” but gave his support nonetheless.
“In the end, I think the State Board did the right thing,” he said. “Obviously, we’re trying to prioritize the safety of our kids.”
The fact that school districts can phase in buses with the new safety equipment as they replace old buses should make the financial burden manageable, Dawson said.
A public hearing was held on the proposal on June 25 and public input considered, according to an executive summary from the State Board.
Other safety equipment called for in the rules would include one additional stop arm per bus, hand rails, exterior boarding lights and fire-resistant crash barriers between the front bus seats and the bus drivers.
The new requirements are part of a broader effort to keep Iowa students safe on school vehicles, the press release stated.
In separate action Thursday, the state board adopted administrative rules that expand mandatory bus inspections to include all school vehicles that take students to and from school activities.
And earlier this year, the board adopted rules under which school districts must document that mandatory school bus evacuation drills are completed twice a year as required by law.
The administrative rules adopted Thursday will be sent back to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee for final review.