Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) announced he will introduce "the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation's school bus safety system in over 15 years" to address illegal passing incidents, students struck by their own school buses, driver training, lap/shoulder seat belts and federal grant programs to assist school districts.
On his Facebook page Thursday, Braley posted: "For many schoolchildren, their safety is more at risk coming and going from school than in the classroom or on the playground. That's why today I introduced the School Bus Safety Act, the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation's school bus safety system in over 15 years."
The legislation has yet to be filed as it must first be officially introduced on the House floor. A spokesman for Braley's office said that won't take place until Congress is back in session later this month.
Braley's bill is considered aggressive because it encompasses five provisions, including another attempt at passing a federal law requiring states to enforce school bus passing laws and to match the penalties Iowa implemented for violations. Kadyn's Law in Iowa mandates that first offenders face fines of at least $250 and the possibility of jail time of up to 30 days. For a second offense within five years, fines would range from between $315 and $1,875 with up to one year of jail time. The law there was passed in 2012 in response to the death of Kadyn Halvorsen, a 7-year-old girl who was struck by a motorist while attempting to cross the street to her waiting school bus, which was stopped with its federally mandated stop arm extended and its eight-way flashing lights engaged.
Braley said that the fine for illegally passing a school bus is as low as $30 per offense in some states.
In 2012 Braley also introduced a federal Kadyn's Act, but the bill did not advance in the House. As with the last iteration, the new School Bus Safety Act would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to withhold 10 percent of a state's share of the federal highway safety fund apportionment for failure to enact legislation in compliance with Kadyn's Act.
The Act would also direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to assess using technology to get drivers to stop for school buses. For example, Braley said studying how a particular lighting system might help prevent motorists from illegally passing stopped buses. This could also help with the situation that led to the death of Kadyn Halverson in Iowa – utilizing technology that can get people to slow down and stop, in addition to increased penalties.
The new legislation also targets a reduction of student deaths resulting from being struck by their own school bus. It would also allow the Department of Transportation to provide state grants to equip school buses with motion-activated dection systems using radio or radar waves that would alert drivers with an audible tone to the presence of a pedestrian anywhere around the bus "danger zone" prior to pulling away from a stop. States would also be required to submit a report to the Department of Transportation that provides data on the effectiveness of the motion detectors, including whether or not the systems prevented children from being hit by a school bus and a cost analysis of using these systems.
Another requirement of Braley's legislation would require all states to perform background checks on school bus drivers. While many states already have requirements in place for fingerprinting new driver applicants, for example, he pointed out that Iowa enacted its law in 2012. And some states are still operating without this requirement. States would be required to implement standards similar to Iowa or lose 10 percent of their federal highway safety funds.
The bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a "School Bus Seat Belt Demonstration Program." It would allow states to apply for funding to purchase new school buses with lap/shoulder seat belts or to equip current ones with the three-point restraints, which would mean retrofitting the buses.