TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee approved legislation today sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would strengthen school bus safety standards and provide more stringent licensing requirements for school bus drivers.
Senator Turner said, “The need for this measure was originally brought to my attention after a series of school bus incidents earlier this year shed light on several of the gaps in New Jersey’s school bus safety procedures. This Monday’s the school bus crash only makes the issue all the more urgent to address.”
According to published reports, in March there were three lapses in school bus safety, including one bus that caught on fire on Route 1 in Lawrence, another bus that nearly veered into oncoming traffic in Hamilton after the driver had a seizure and a 6-year-old boy being left alone on a bus after it had been parked at the Delaware Valley Bus Co. depot in Trenton. Two Monroe Township school buses collided on Monday, resulting in minor injuries to 22 students on board.
The Senator’s bill, S-419, would implement several changes to the safety and training requirements placed on school bus drivers. Among those changes would be the creation of a new driver’s license endorsement for school buses. The new endorsement, designated “S,” would require potential drivers to go through classroom and behind-the-wheel training and pass a written test.
“Every day, hundreds of thousands of parents entrust the safety of their children to a school bus driver. We should guarantee that they are the best trained drivers on the road,” said Senator Turner.
Additionally, school bus drivers would be required to satisfactorily complete a minimum of four hours of classroom training every four years as a condition of continued employment and of renewal of their school bus driver endorsement.
“No matter the job, everyone needs a refresher every few years in order to perform at their best. Our goal is to provide drivers with the latest information and training without being overly burdensome,” added Senator Turner.
In addition to the new training requirements, the bill would mandate that school bus drivers undergo biennial medical exams and random drug testing pursuant to federal guidelines.
“Given that a sudden seizure or fainting spell can mean disaster when behind the wheel of a bus, it’s essential that school bus drivers get regular check-ups to catch these dangers early,” explained Senator Turner.
Senator Turner’s bill would also direct the Office of Highway Traffic Safety (OHTS) to conduct an analysis every three years of accidents involving vehicles registered as school buses and to prepare a report that identifies changes needed to improve the effectiveness of school bus driver training programs.
“School bus safety is an issue that needs constant attention. Regular reviews of school bus accidents will provide us with a road map for improving safety standards for years to come,” explained Senator Turner.
Additionally, OHTS would create a school bus driver safety advisory board for the purpose of developing the curriculum of the school bus driver training program, in consultation with the Department of Education, and monitoring the effectiveness of this legislation. The board would consist of representatives of the Motor Vehicle Commission, Department of Education, Division of State Police, New Jersey School Bus Owner’s Association, School Transportation Supervisors of New Jersey, New Jersey State Safety Council and Driving School Association of New Jersey, Garden State School Bus Contractors Association, New Jersey Education Association and New Jersey School Boards Association.
The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 5-0 and now goes to the full Senate for their approval.