DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa is joining eight other states in requiring seat belts, as well as mandating other safety equipment, on all new school buses this fall.
As of Oct. 2, the Iowa State Board of Education adopted a rule to require lap-shoulder, also known as three-point, belts in all new school buses ordered by Iowa school districts and state-accredited non-public schools. As School Bus Fleet previously reported, the Iowa State Board of Education adopted new rules on the requirement on Aug. 1. (The rule carries the same weight as law.)
The requirement also extends to other safety equipment, such as one additional stop arm per bus, hand rails, exterior boarding lights, and fire-resistant crash barriers between the front bus seat and the bus driver, on new school buses. Additionally, fire suppression systems will be allowed, Max Christensen, an executive officer for school transportation at the Iowa Department of Education, told SBF.
Rules were also adopted to require mandatory bus inspections for all school vehicles that take students to and from school activities, and to require documentation that mandatory school bus evacuation drills are completed twice a year as required by law, Christensen confirmed.
Orders for school buses currently in the pipeline and buses ordered through Oct. 1 will be grandfathered in via a waiver between the school and the state Department of Education, he said.
“Buses that are manufactured after Oct. 2 but ordered prior to that date will technically need to comply with new rules, but due to the order/build process, will be unable to, thus the waiver,” Christensen added. “The waiver will acknowledge the existence of the new rules, but will also acknowledge the fact that certain buses built after the effective date of the new rules cannot meet those new rules.”
Despite school buses already being very safe, adding lap-shoulder belts to all new school buses in the state will add “an extra layer of safety and protection in certain accident scenarios,” he said.
Using three-point belts in buses has also consistently shown improved student behavior and fewer discipline problems, which also makes school buses safer, he added.
“The driver will be able to spend more time actually driving the bus than disciplining the children,” Christensen said. “Additionally, better behavior on the bus may improve the hiring dynamics for new drivers and help with the retention of current drivers.”
“It's been a long journey getting to this point, but I believe it was a journey worth taking for the benefit of the students riding the school buses here in Iowa," he added.
Iowa is the ninth state to require seat belts in school buses. Other states with the requirement are New Jersey, New York, Florida, Nevada, and California. Texas requires three-point belts unless the district's board of education determines that the district can't afford it. Louisiana passed a school bus seat belt bill, but it is contingent on funding being allocated to pay for the restraints. Since the mandate remains unfunded, it has not been enforced. Meanwhile, Arkansas requires the restraints if they are authorized by a local petition.