TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would criminalize operating a school bus with a suspended license was approved today by the full Senate. Turner introduced the bill in response to a rash of school bus accidents that occurred in New Jersey this year, including a May incident in Manalapan where a school bus carrying 37 students slid off the road and hit a lamp post and tree. No students were injured; however, the school bus driver was driving with a suspended license.
“Every day hundreds of thousands of New Jersey parents entrust the safety of their children to the school bus drivers who transport their children from home to school and back again,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Hunterdon. “Drivers with suspended licenses do not meet the safety standards to be on the road let alone to be transporting this precious cargo. This bill will work to ensure that those who are responsible for delivering our children to school are upholding the letter of the law, and if not, are held criminally accountable.”
The bill, S-2127, would make it a fourth degree crime for bus drivers to operate a school bus with students knowing that their driving privileges have been suspended. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months or a fine of up to $10,000 or both. A bus driver with a suspended license who is involved in an accident that causes bodily injury would be charged with a third degree crime. A third degree crime is punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years or a fine of up to $15,000 or both. In addition to the standard penalties for fourth and third degree crimes, the bus driver’s passenger and school bus endorsements would be suspended permanently.
Bus drivers who are disqualified as bus drivers are notified by the Department of Education’s (DOE) Criminal Review Unit. Every evening, the Motor Vehicle Commission sends an electronic file to the DOE listing the bus drivers who have become disqualified. The following day, the DOE reviews the list and sends notices to the school district or bus contractor and the bus driver. The school district or bus contractor is required to take appropriate action. Turner’s bill would hold the bus driver accountable for disregarding the disqualification notice.
The bill was approved with a vote of 38-0. It now heads to the General Assembly.