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LAKE VIEW, Iowa (AP) — Most Americans who have been to public school know that kids on a school bus don’t always stay in their seat, don’t always face the right way, and may not even be sitting down like they’re supposed to.

But on one of the newest buses in East Sac Community School District, it’s a little easier to keep the students in their spaces.

That’s because they have to wear their seat belts.

One bus in the fleet now comes equipped with seat belts for all students. If everything goes well, the school will eventually have them on all buses, said Transportation Director Phil Howes.

“Mostly it was the safety aspect,” Howes told The Messenger .

The ESCSD school board was very receptive when he and Business Manager John Kraft proposed the seat belts, Howes said.

“When we brought this up to them, they were really on board with seat belts,” he said. “The safety of the kids, I mean, it’s supposed to be No. 1.”

Howes believes that eventually, all schools will go this way.

“I think at some point the federal and state are going to make it mandatory,” he said. “We’re going to jump on board before that happens. It’s safety for the kids, and also if they’re buckled in they’re compartmentalized. They have to stay where they’re sitting.”

The bus driver likes that part, he said,

However, some of the kids are still getting used to the seat belts.

“Most of them didn’t say anything. We have three or four who are still bucking it a little bit,” Howes said. “The driver likes it. It keeps them where they belong.”

Howes consulted with Todd Liston, transportation director for Des Moines Public Schools, before buying the bus.

East Sac is only the second district in Iowa to get seat belts, Howes said. Des Moines was the first.

“They were the experimental school,” he said. “It helped with discipline on the buses. And, God forbid, if you have a wreck the kids are safe.”

To install seat belts in a bus requires a different sort of seat.

“These frames have to be built —they’re more solid than a regular seat,” Howes said. “The backs are different.”

It cost about $7,000 more to order the Thomas school bus with seat belts, he said. The total cost was about $99,000.

That’s a little higher than a diesel bus would be, Howes said. The bus is powered by propane, like about half the buses in East Sac’s fleet. The buses save money on fuel, and heat up more quickly in the winter.

The seat belts have a shoulder strap with an adjustable height. They don’t have some of the problems of older, lap belt-only seat belts once used in buses.

“The old seat belts they had were just down here, they had to cinch them up tight. Well, the kids would use those as a weapon,” Howes said. “They’d knock each other with them, or they’d break windows.”

The belts also have extra connectors in the middle, so they can easily accommodate either two kids per seat or three.

School buses rarely get into wrecks, Howes said.

In fact, school buses are by far the safest way for kids to go to school, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car. Nearly 500 students who are from 5 to 18 years old die each year in passenger vehicles during school travel hours, the NHTSA reports. About 100 children who are from 5 to 18 years old are killed while walking or biking during school travel each year.

In contrast, four school-age children are killed each year while riding school buses during school travel hours.

School buses are safe because they are visible, and because they’re heavy, according to the NHTSA. That’s why seat belts still aren’t required in them, even though they’ve been mandated for passenger vehicles since 1968.

Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than passenger cars and light trucks, the agency said. Because of these differences, bus passengers experience much less crash force than those in passenger cars, light trucks and vans.

The strong, closely-spaced seats with energy-absorbing seat backs also keep students protected through “compartmentalization” in a crash, even without seat belts.

The greatest risk is not riding the school bus, but approaching or leaving it, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. That’s one reason since 2012 there have been extra penalties for drivers who pass a stopped school bus which has its flashers on and its stop arm extended.


Information from: The Messenger,