The author of a historic, sweeping school bus safety bill in Congress is pushing for hearings to begin by year's end and before both the House and Senate adjourn for the holidays.
Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa sent a letter Thursday to Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Nick Rahall to urge the committee to take up the legislation. Braley introduced the new School Bus Safety Act in May. He pointed out that from 2001 to 2010, there were 1,236 school transportation–related crashes that every year kill 19 students on average, according to an estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"Simply put, there are too many accidents killing children in and around school buses every year," Braley said in a statement. "There are things we can do to make our children safer, and I urge the Committee to take up this important matter before one more child is involved in a preventable accident."
For the past two years, Braley has been hot on the trail of safety improvements in the wake of the 2012 death of Kadyn Halverson, a 7-year-old girl from Northwood, Iowa, who was fatally struck while attempting to cross the road from a babysitter's house to her waiting school bus. Halverson's death prompted a coalition of parents, including her own, to lobby state legislators to pass Kadyn's Act to increase penalties for motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses.
Offenses in Iowa range from a fine of $250 to $1,000 depending on the seriousness of the incident, jail time of up to one year and the revoking of a driver's license for 180 days.
Shortly after Gov. Terry Branstad signed that bill into law, Braley introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House with Kadyn's Amendment, which aimed to devote at least $10 million of federal funding to strengthen existing state laws on illegal passing. The House unanimously approved adding the amendment to a larger federal bill, which never made it out of the Senate.
Braley reintroduced the legislation in May with his School Bus Safety Act. In addition to requiring states to enact tougher illegal passing laws, Braley's bill would create grants for motion detection systems around the bus perimeter to alert when a moving target is detected within the "danger zone" — the 10-foot circumference around the bus.
Iowa conducted a pilot test last year of detection technology and the Department of Education now allows, but does not require, districts to implement the systems.
The federal legislation also would require national background checks on bus drivers, a seat belt demonstration program to allow states to apply for funding and a NHTSA assessment of technology that might better stop motorists from illegally passing school buses.
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