TRENTON – A series of school bus safety bills sponsored by Senator Joseph Lagana and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. that would aim to improve bus safety and accident response, make bus drivers and company’s more accountable and require every student to carry an identification card at school-sponsored, off-campus activities cleared the Senate Transportation committee today.
“The May accident involving a Paramus school bus that tragically killed an East Brook Middle School student and a teacher, in addition to leaving many others injured, was a nightmare scenario,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “As parents, we should not have to worry about the safety of our children when they are on a school bus. This horrific accident prompted me to call for legislative hearings which raised questions about how we can make school buses safer, write tougher regulations relating to bus drivers and bus operators and how we monitor our children once they board a bus. In the aftermath of the accident, emergency personnel also made clear to me that identification for students would have reduced confusion and aided them in their response. The package of bills my Senate colleagues and I are sponsoring address these concerns and should ensure that no parent or child will have to go through what too many have endured these past few months.”
“We have to work to make sure that our children are safe when they get on a school bus. We want to work to make sure that the school bus accidents like the ones we have seen over the past few months never happen again,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “The package of bills focuses on school bus operations and drivers to be required to comply with both state and federal regulations. We want school bus drivers to be knowledgeable of how to handle a bus and know what the procedures are in the event an incident occurs. We are also calling on the public to stay vigilant if they see a bus being driven recklessly, and to make sure they report it. These new changes, if implemented, will go a long way in making sure we improve school bus safety for our children.”
The following bills include:
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Lagana, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegnan, 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- Sponsored by Senator Diegan, S-2854, would require school bus drivers to retake the school bus endorsement knowledge test each time the school bus driver applies to renew his or her commercial driver’s license in order to maintain the driver’s school bus endorsement. The bill was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.
- 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 was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.