DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa State Board of Education voted to move forward with a proposal to require seat belts in all brand new school buses.
The Iowa Pupil Transportation Association said there are only 16 districts in Iowa that are already adding seat belts to new school buses voluntarily.
The IPTA said the few states where seat belts on buses are a requirement have shown bullying on buses has dropped as well as the number of minor injuries.
“States that have seat belts, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Nevada and Texas, they have all shown that bullying has dropped on buses with seat belts because the kids stay in their seats,” IPTA Executive Director Chris Darling said.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended adding belts to buses about a year ago.
The Department of Education Transportation Director Max Christensen said they estimate each seat belt would cost about $123 for a total of about $8,000 per bus.
“If you take a look at the actual cost, a school bus has a lifespan of about 15 here in Iowa, so if you factor in the cost versus the life span , the number of days the vehicle is being used during the school year, it comes out to a cost of about four and a half cents per student per day,” Christensen said.
He said there are some ways to resolve the cost burden this could be for smaller school districts.
“There are various funding streams out there and of course the legislature would weigh in on that as well whenever if and when they decide to go ahead with this,” Christensen said.
Darling said both the transportation industry and bus drivers are coming around to the idea of seat belts on buses.
“They said, ‘you know, we are scared to have them because we don’t want to get in trouble if they are not wearing them,’ then after they have had their seat belts in their buses for a short period of time they say, ‘well, I would never want to drive a bus without them again,'” Darling said.
Christensen said from what the department has seen on buses with seat belts they believe everyone is a lot safer with them.
“Kids are actually sitting in their seats strapped down with the left shoulder belt and then the school bus driver becomes a safer driver because the driver then is not having to look in the overhead mirror at 40 or 50 kids trying to keep them all in their seats and discipline them when they are going down the road, so if the kids are better disciplined then of course the school bus driver can pay more attention to actually driving the bus, which also makes it safer for other drivers on the road,” Christensen said.
The next step for this requirement is a public hearing on June 25 at 10 a.m. at the State Board of Education Office where you can make your voice heard on the issue.