DES MOINES — Any new buses purchased by Iowa school districts starting next month must include seat belts.
The rules were proposed by the state education department and approved Tuesday by a rule-making panel of state lawmakers.
The rules passed after the legislative panel heard discussion from Iowa education leaders and members of the public.
“I had gotten a lot of comments from people both for and against the seat belt provision,” said Iowa Rep. Megan Jones, a Republican from Spencer and co-chair of the legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee. “A lot of people say our normal, everyday vehicles have seat belts, so kids should be in seat belts on buses. And that’s a point very well taken. ... On the flip side of it, some people say when it comes to fires or water submersion, we need people out as fast as humanly possible.”
Jones said legislators were presented with information from a bus safety expert who showed young students were able to improve their evacuation time after proper training, and that being in a seat belt did not hinder that efficiency.
“So it didn’t seem like seat belts were too much of a deterrent when it came to the time frame in which it took them to get off the bus,” Jones said.
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The rules also called for each new school bus to include a second stop arm — the device that is lowered and sticks out to the side of a bus that is stopped to pick up or drop off students — and also hand rails and exterior boarding lights.
Purchasing a new bus that meets all the new requirements will cost an additional $8,000 per bus, a state education department spokeswoman said.
Districts can use multiple state funding streams to purchase buses, including a special levy designated for construction and equipment needs, and a sales tax designated for school infrastructure needs.
Jones said some school leaders from districts that have school buses with seat belts have said they also helped reduce behavior issues and distractions for the driver.
“Distracting the driver: that doesn’t happen as much when everybody’s in their right seat and buckled in,” Jones said.
Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said the new rules were written in part based on the recommendations of the federal government’s National Transportation Safety Board.
Seat belts will be particularly helpful in cases of side impact collisions and rollovers, Hupp said.
“Our school buses in Iowa are very safe already. What these seat belts do is protect students even more from types of accidents where kids are more vulnerable,” Hupp said.