House Democrats unveiled a $494 billion transportation infrastructure plan to address federal funding, which is set to expire in September, that targets a new proposed rule for lap/shoulder seatbelts in large school buses and a decrease in school bus illegal passers.
The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act, or INVEST in America Act for short, was introduced on Thursday by Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I).
It provides $319 billion to the Federal Highway Administration, $105 billion to the Federal Transit Administration, $5.3 billion to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), $4.6 billion to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and $60 billion for rail programs.
Specific to school bus safety, it would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to consider issuing a new proposal to require lap/shoulder seatbelts on large school buses, citing a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board and drawing upon the experiences of states with laws on the occupant restraint systems. If USDOT does not issue a new proposal, it would need to submit a report to Congress that highlights why it chose not to move forward.
The Act would also direct USDOT to conduct a comprehensive review of efforts to prevent illegal passing of school buses, issue recommendations and create a public safety messaging campaign to draw awareness to the illegal activity. It would also require NHTSA to release its findings from a study of the efficacy of stop-arm cameras to catch illegal passers.
Meanwhile, within two years of the Act’s passage, newly manufactured school buses would also need to be equipped with automatic emergency braking and electronic stability control systems. USDOT would be required to establish performance requirements for both technologies.
The bill also calls for research and testing of fire prevention and mitigation standards for large school buses and the consideration of issuing updated standards, if they are needed. Included are fire suppression systems standards, engine firewall standards, and interior flammability and smoke emissions characteristics standards.
Related to the practice in some states of allowing school districts to self-inspect some of their school buses, the Act would direct the USDOT to consider the impact of continuing to allow this practice “as a means to satisfy periodic inspection requirements on the safety of passenger carrier operations.” The Act seeks a final rule based on the April 27, 2016, advanced notice of proposed rulemaking titled “State Inspection Programs for Passenger-Carrier Vehicles.”
Related: NASDPTS Issues New Guidance Advocating Lap/Shoulder Seatbelts on School Buses
Related: School Bus Fire Suppression Highlighted in NTSB Report and Federal Legislation
Related: New School Bus Safety Campaign Takes Proactive Approach to Illegal Passing
The House proposal would also increase funding of the Safe Routes to School Program, which originated with the 2005 transportation reauthorization. In addition to appropriating funds to states to encourage walking and biking to school, the program would target sidewalk, crosswalk and traffic-reduction improvement projects as well as public awareness campaigns and traffic education and enforcement.
The House T&I committee is scheduled to consider the bill on June 17, with a full House consideration on July 1.