The State Board of Education adopted rules to require lap-shoulder belts and other safety equipment in all new school buses purchased by school districts and state-accredited non-public schools. File photo courtesy Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools

The State Board of Education adopted rules to require lap-shoulder belts and other safety equipment in all new school buses purchased by school districts and state-accredited non-public schools. File photo courtesy Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa may require seat belts, as well as other safety equipment, on all new school buses as soon as this fall.

New rules adopted Thursday by the Iowa State Board of Education will require lap-shoulder, also known as three-point, belts in all new school buses purchased by Iowa school districts and state-accredited non-public schools, according to a news release from the Iowa Department of Education.

The board unanimously adopted state administrative rules requiring lap-shoulder belts and other safety equipment, including 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. The rules are subject to legislative review before they take effect.

“New” buses are those manufactured on or after Oct. 2, the date that the new state rules are scheduled to take effect. Schools will not need to retrofit older buses with seat belts.

As SBF previously reported, the Iowa Department of Education recommended a rule change to require lap-shoulder belts in all new school buses to the State Board of Education in May.

“While school buses are built to keep students safe, lap-shoulder seat belts provide greater protection against injuries in the rare event of an accident,” said Brooke Axiotis, president of the State Board of Education. “Through this approach, we are doing more to protect Iowa students while allowing schools to phase in seat belts in a way that makes sense for them financially.”

Lap-shoulder belts add about $8,000 to the cost of a new school bus, which ranges from $90,000 to $100,000, according to the Iowa Department of Education. Most school districts in the state phase in the cost of new school buses using a Physical Plant and Equipment Levy or their general funds.  

The Department of Education proposed the new rules to State Board of Education members based on a recommendation earlier this year from a group of Iowa school transportation officials. In 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended lap-shoulder seat belts on all new school buses.

The new requirements are part of a broader effort to keep Iowa students safe on school vehicles, according to the Department of Education.

In a separate action on Thursday, the State Board of Education adopted administrative rules that expand mandatory bus inspections to include all school vehicles that take students to and from school activities. Additionally, earlier this year, it adopted rules under which school districts must document that mandatory school bus evacuation drills are completed twice a year as required by law.

The board adopted the seat belt rules after a period of public input and initial review from the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee. The rules will go back to the Administrative Rules Review Committee for final review.

Other states requiring seat belts in school buses 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.

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