The New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee approved 12 important school bus safety bills on July 26. The prospects for eventual passage continue to look positive. The bills propose to improve bus safety and accident response, make bus drivers and companies more accountable, and require all students to carry IDs at all school-sponsored, off-campus activities.
Senate Transportation Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. and Sen. Joe Lagana pushed the package of school bills through committee on Thursday, July 26, all of which were approved on a 5-0 vote.
“We are working to put in place tougher regulations for bus driver standards and improved safety protocols,” Lagana said. “I remain committed to seeing this bill package advance into law to help keep our children and educators safe.”
The bills are being positioned as a necessary fix for school bus safety, following the deadly May 17 Paramus crash, where the school bus driver had previously had his license suspended 14 times. Sen. Lagana called the crash and related issues a “nightmare scenario.”
He said that, “As parents, we should not have to worry about the safety of our children when they are on a school bus. This horrific accident prompted me to call for legislative hearings, which raised questions about how we can make school buses safer, write tougher regulations relating to bus drivers and bus operators and how we monitor our children once they board a bus.
Sen. Lagana noted that, “In the aftermath of the accident, emergency personnel also made clear to me that identification for students would have reduced confusion and aided them in their response. The package of bills my Senate colleagues and I are sponsoring address these concerns, and should ensure that no parent or child will have to go through what too many have endured these past few months.”
Sen. Diegnan stressed that, “We have to work to make sure that our children are safe when they get on a school bus. We want to work to make sure that the school bus accidents like the ones we have seen over the past few months never happen again.”
He said the bills focus on “school bus operations and drivers to be required to comply with both state and federal regulations. We want school bus drivers to be knowledgeable of how to handle a bus and know what the procedures are in the event an incident occurs. We are also calling on the public to stay vigilant if they see a bus being driven recklessly, and to make sure they report it. These new changes, if implemented, will go a long way in making sure we improve school bus safety for our children.”
- S1773—Require that all school buses have a phone number or website or other identifier, displayed in contrasting text on the back of the bus, so the general public can report bus driver misconduct to a designated official. The bill would take effect immediately and be applicable to the next school year, starting July 1. Sponsored by Sen. Diegnan and Sen. Vin Gopal.
- S2754—Require the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with directors of various other relevant departments, to study the safety of school bus passengers in various emergency situations, including, but not limited to, school bus accidents, such as head-on, rear-end, and side-impact collisions, and situations where the school bus may roll over. Following a thorough investigation, the commissioner would issue a report to the governor and the legislature that summarizes their findings and provides recommendations to improve the safety of school bus passengers. Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lagana, Sen. Linda Greenstein, Sen. James Holzapfel and Sen. Robert Singer (bipartisan).
- S2755—Require beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, any school district transportation supervisor with less than 11 years of experience, and all newly hired transportation directors, complete a certification program, the School Transportation Supervisors Program offered by the Center for Government Services at Rutgers University, as a condition of employment. The transportation supervisor will bear the full cost of the program. Sponsored by Sen. Lagana.
- S2780—Require schools to have school bus video reviewed and to adopt a plan for monthly inspection of cameras and video footage. Altering, destroying, concealing, removing, or disabling any camera or other monitoring device, including any videotape, film, or other medium used to record sound or images that is installed in a school bus, would be a crime of the fourth degree. Also required is that each school that uses cameras to have the images randomly reviewed once per month. In addition, each school district would be required to submit a plan to the Commissioner of Education for the monthly inspection of cameras and video footage from school buses, which will be subject to the commissioner’s approval. Sponsored by Sen. Anthony R. Bucco and Sen. Linda Greenstein (bipartisan).
- S2790—Require that school bus driver’s complete motor vehicle driving record be shared with board of education or school bus contractor and local police. Sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Sacco and Sen. Joseph Lagana.
- S2848—Require bus drivers to submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination conducted by a medical examiner who is recognized by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. School bus drivers who are 70 years of age or older would be required to submit proof of physical fitness annually. Also drivers over 75 would be required to submit proof every six months. Sponsored by Sen. Diegnan and Sen. Lagana.
- S2850—Require the school district’s board of education and its school bus contractor to provide a statement within 24 hours, to the N.J. Dept. of Education that notifies them of the suspension or revocation of a school bus driver’s license. This would bring further confirmation that a driver who is deemed unfit for duty, is no longer driving a school bus for the board of education or the school bus contractor. Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lagana, Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Sen. Kristin Corrado, Sen. James Holzapfel and Sen. Robert Singer.
- S2851—Require boards of education and contractors that provide school transportation services to employ school bus safety personnel. Safety personnel would be required to ensure that the compliance of state and federal laws, rules and regulations are implemented, that the best training in emergency equipment is provided, and that accident avoidance practices regarding school bus safety are followed. Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lagana, Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Sen. James Holzapfe and Sen. Robert Singer (bipartisan).
- S2852—Require school bus operations in N.J. to comply with certain federal regulations (parts of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations) concerning civil rights requirements, noise emissions, certain federal programs, registration and insurance, drug testing, safety fitness procedures and certain safety requirements. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Sen. Joseph Lagana and Sen. James Holzapfel (bipartisan).
- S2853—Require biannual safety education for school bus drivers and aides. School bus staff members would submit to safety education once at the beginning of the school year, and again during the second semester. This education would cover several key areas, including student management and discipline, accident and emergency procedures and emergency exit drills. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Sen. James Holzapfel and Sen. Robert Singer (bipartisan).
- S2854—Require school bus drivers to retake the school bus endorsement knowledge test each time the school bus driver applies to renew his/her CDL, in order to maintain the driver’s school bus endorsement. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Sen. Joseph Lagana, Sen. James Holzapfel and Sen. Robert Singer (bipartisan).
- S2855—Require each school district to develop and implement a policy that requires all students to carry a school identification card issued by the district, while the student is at any school-sponsored, off-campus activity including field trips or interscholastic sports programs. Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lagana, Sen. James Holzapfel and Sen. Robert Singer (bipartisan).