The Paramus, New Jersey school board voted to require its buses to be equipped with shoulder-restraint-style (three-point) seat belts for buses it is planning to purchase, for an extra $5,300 per bus. The board also said it will request bids for retrofitting all of its current buses with the safer-style belts, northjersey.com reported.
On the same day, June 18, the New Jersey Senate & Assembly Transportation Committees held a joint hearing in Trenton, the state capitol, on school bus safety. The event focused on the deadly bus accident in Paramus on May 22.
The Assembly Transportation Committee also passed three bills, one of which would require upgraded seat belts.
“The tragic bus accident last month has raised many questions about school bus safety,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan, Jr., JD (D-Middlesex) on Monday. “We need to understand fully what happened, how it happened, and then most importantly, how to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again. And we need to do this while the images are fresh, because we cannot lose our sense of indignation over the loss of the life. We must have answers. We owe that to the families of the victims and we owe that to every parent who sends their child to school.”
“Thousands of students board school buses every morning trusting that they are safely on their way to school,” said Assembly Transportation Chairman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The recent tragic school bus accidents have raised questions regarding seatbelts and bus safety. The only way to get the right answers is to invite the experts to the table and find the solutions that would make our buses safer for our children.”
According to mycentraljersey.com, some of the legislators expressed concerns about the advanced age of some school bus drivers. “Would you want that person to drive your child?,” asked Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Paterson.
Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-South Plainfield, commented that, “Someone over the age of 75 should not be driving a school bus.”
Some legislators were also very unhappy with how the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and Department of Education do or do not notify school districts when license suspensions occur for any drivers.
The new seat belt requirement “is above and beyond the state regulations that require lap belts on school buses, and it is in line with federal recommendations to improve the safety of buses,” noted mycentraljersey.com. “Paramus is likely the first district in the state to require such seat belts, New Jersey School Boards Association officials said Tuesday afternoon.”
Testimony was provided by:
- American School Bus Council
- Assemblyman Christopher Tully (D-Bergen, Passaic)
- Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic)
- National Transportation Safety Board
- New Jersey Department of Education
- New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission
- New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association
- Traffic Safety Coalition