TRENTON – A series of school bus safety bills sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. and Senator Joseph Lagana as well as Senator Vin Gopal, Senator Linda Greenstein, Senator James Holzapfel and Senator Kristen Corrado cleared the Senate today.
The package aims to improve bus safety and accident response, make bus drivers and companies more accountable and require every student to carry an identification card at school-sponsored, off-campus activities.
“We want to do everything that we can to make sure that school bus accidents like the ones we have seen over the past year never happen again,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “The bills focus on school bus operations and drivers, requiring compliance with both state and federal regulations. We want school bus drivers to be knowledgeable of how to handle a bus, know what the protocols are in the event of an accident, and be physically able to carry out their responsibilities. If implemented, these changes will go a long way in improving school bus safety for our children.”
“The school bus accident this May that tragically killed an East Brook Middle School student and teacher, and left many others injured, was a nightmare scenario,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This horrific accident prompted me to call for public hearings which led to conversations about how we could make school buses safer, and create tougher regulations relating to bus drivers and bus operators. The package of bills my Senate colleagues and I are sponsoring addresses these concerns and will help ensure that no parent or child will have to go through what too many have endured these past few months. As parents, we should not have to worry about the safety of our children when they board a school bus.”
“All members of the public have a vested interest in making sure school bus drivers are driving safely and paying close attention to their surroundings,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Placing a contact number on the back of the bus will help hold bus drivers accountable for reckless driving, giving the public the ability to easily report if they see something concerning.”
“The safety of children is the number one priority of any parent. We expect children to be secure when they go to school, and we expect children to be unharmed when they ride the bus to school,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We can always make school buses safer, especially as technology changes we must continue to adapt to ensure we are doing everything we can to keep children out of harm’s way. New Jersey is a family friendly state, and we need to assure parents that their children will be all right when they ride the bus to and from school.”
“Parents should not have to worry about the safety of their child when they are on a school bus,” said Senator Holzapfel (R-Ocean). “We are taking action at the state level to require additional education training for school bus drivers and ensure the safety of our children. We want drivers and aides to be educated on how to handle an emergency situation. Any step we can take to prevent an accident involving a school bus will go a long way.”
“After so many tragic accidents, thousands of parents now have to think twice when they watch their child board a school bus,” Senator Corrado (R-Bergen/Essex/Morris/Passaic) said. “There is nothing more precious than our children. If you’re going to drive a school bus, you should have a clean driving record and the qualifications necessary to transport our kids. This bill will ensure those standards are met. It’s the least we can do.”
The package includes the following legislation:
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan and Senator Gopal, S-1773, would require that all school buses have a phone number or website displayed on the back of the bus so drivers can report bus driver misconduct if they witness anything concerning. The bill would take effect immediately and be applicable to the next school year starting July 1st. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 40-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana and Senator Greenstein, S-2754 would require the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with directors of various other relevant departments, to study the safety of school bus passengers in various emergency situations. Following a thorough investigation the commissioner would issue a report to the governor and the Legislature summarizing their findings and offering recommendations to improve the safety of school bus passengers. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 38-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana, S-2755 would require that any school district transportation supervisor with less than 11 years’ experience and all newly hired transportation directors complete a certification program, as a condition of employment. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 37-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan and Senator Lagana, S-2848 would require bus drivers to submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination conducted by a medical examiner recognized by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. School bus drivers that are 70 years of age or older would be required to submit proof of physical fitness annually, and drivers over the age of 75 will be required to submit proof every six months. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 38-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana and Senator Deignan, S-2850 would require school district’s board of education and their school bus contractor to provide a statement to the Department of Education notifying the suspension or revocation of a school bus driver’s license. This would bring further confirmation that a driver deemed unfit for duty is no longer driving a school bus for the board of education or the school bus contractor. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 39-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana and Senator Deignan, S-2851 would require boards of education and contractors that provide school transportation services to employ school bus safety personnel. Safety personnel would be required to ensure that the compliance of state and federal laws, rules and regulations are implemented, that the best training in emergency equipment is provided and that accident avoidance practices regarding school bus safety are followed. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 38-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan and Senator Lagana, S-2852 would require school bus operations in New Jersey to comply with certain federal regulations. School bus drivers would be required to comply with parts of the Code of Federal Regulations covering several areas, including drug testing and safety procedures and requirements. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 40-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan and Senator Holzapfel, S-2853 would require bi-annual safety education for school bus drivers and aides. School bus staff members would submit to safety education once at the beginning of the school year, and again during the second semester. This education would cover several key areas, including student management and discipline, accident and emergency procedures and emergency exit drills. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 40-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana, S-2855 would require each school district to develop and implement a policy requiring all students to carry a school identification card issued by the district while the student is at any school-sponsored, off-campus activity including field trips or interscholastic sports programs. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 40-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana and Senator Corrado, S-2914 would require the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to suspend the school bus endorsement on a person’s driver’s license for ninety-days if the person is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period, or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points while operating a commercial or non-commercial motor vehicle. The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 39-0.