Support Builds for School Bus Safety Legislation in Congress

Joevanny Vargas, who lost his daughter in the May 2018 Paramus bus crash, met with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in June 2019. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Robert Menendez’s office.)
Joevanny Vargas, who lost his daughter in the May 2018 Paramus bus crash, met with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in June 2019. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Robert Menendez’s office.)

Two companion bills to the Gottheimer Bipartisan House Legislation have been introduced in the U.S. Senate: the Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) Act of 2019 (H.R. 2792; 2 cosponsors), and the Miranda Vargas School Bus Driver Red Flag Act (H.R.2793; 6 cosponsors).

On June 12, 2019, Joevanny Vargas, father of 10-year-old Miranda Vargas who was killed in the Paramus, New Jersey bus crash, went door to door on Capitol Hill with Congressman Gottheimer, to gather support for the school bus safety legislation.
On June 12, 2019, Joevanny Vargas (at podium), father of 10-year-old Miranda Vargas who was killed in the Paramus, New Jersey bus crash, went door to door on Capitol Hill with Congressman Gottheimer (far right), to gather support for the school bus safety legislation. Vargas’ other daughter, Madison, is also pictured, along with Miranda’s grandfather (far left).

On May 17, the two bills, authored by U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, were referred to the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Meanwhile, on June 12, Joevanny Vargas, father of 10-year-old Miranda Vargas who was killed in the Paramus, New Jersey bus crash, Madison Vargas, Miranda’s twin sister, and Johnny, Miranda’s grandfather, went door to door on Capitol Hill with Congressman Gottheimer, to gather support for the school bus safety legislation.

U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, both from New Jersey, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

Video of the Crash Area

Meanwhile, the State of New Jersey released a video last year of the Paramus school bus crash that was taken (see the below sequence of screen grabs by STN). While grainy, the video appears to show the progression of the school bus from a position on the far right of the images (off of the I80 highway, looking west), to entering the roadway, then reaching the very middle of the roadway, and stretching across all three lanes of traffic at the same time.

10:18:33 a.m.
10:18:33 a.m. Bus is not on the highway.
10:18:41 a.m.
10:18:41 a.m. Bus is at the edge of the highway.
10-18-42 a.m.
10-18-42 a.m. Bus is on the shoulder and beginning to enter the roadway.
10-18-43 a.m.
10-18-43 a.m. Bus is blocking one lane of traffic.
10-18-45 a.m.
10-18-45 a.m. Bus is now blocking all three lanes of traffic.
10-18-45 a.m.
10-18-45 a.m. A blurry enlargement of the same image above shows the bus almost completely perpendicular to oncoming traffic.

Miranda’s Law, named for Miranda Vargas, ensures real-time background checks, so that when a school bus driver has any driving infraction beyond a parking ticket, the school or school bus company (contractor) will receive an alert about that infraction from the U.S. Department of Transportation within 24 hours.

The SECURES Act requires seat belts on all school buses, makes three-point lap-and-shoulder seat belts the national standard. It also encourages innovative measures to ensure students actually wear their seat belts while on school buses.

“We are here to help turn tragedy into hope for other children and families. I am so grateful that Joevanny and his family came down to Washington so that they could tell their story to members of Congress on why our communities so desperately need this bipartisan legislation,” said Congressman Gottheimer. “Miranda’s Law, and the SECURES Act, will help save lives. And there’s nothing partisan about that.”

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey commented that “When a parent sends their child off to school or a field trip they must have the peace of mind that they will return safe and sound. What happened to Miranda Vargas, her classmates and teachers was heartbreaking and tragic and could have been avoided. No parent should have to confront the pain Joevanny Vargas has had to endure, and I am inspired by his advocacy to ensure to other families don’t suffer such a horrible loss.”

Menendez concluded that “We must do everything we can to protect our kids, and it’s time for the federal government to review and issue new school bus safety standards. This is about saving the lives of our children.”

Presidential Candidate Comments on Miranda’s Law

Sen. Cory Booker, an announced Presidential candidate, noted that “Everyday parents are entrusting their child’s bus driver to get them to and from school safely and they deserve to know that the person behind the wheel is qualified.”

Booker added, “By strengthening oversight and requiring notification of any changes in driving record, Miranda’s Law will ensure schools have the information they need about their bus drivers’ records so no family has to feel the heartbreak and loss experienced by the family of Miranda Vargas. This commonsense legislation will help keep our kids safe and their parents’ minds at ease.”

Video of the announcement is posted here.

Gottheimer’s unedited remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

I am here today with my friend, and someone I have come to admire so much, Joevanny Vargas, as well as his daughter, Madison, and his father-in-law. We are going literally door to door here on Capitol Hill, telling the Vargas’ story, not just about the horrific tragedy that fateful day last May, but the incredibly courageous and inspiring thirteen months since. We’re here today going door to door to pass bipartisan bus safety legislation to protect all of our children on America’s school buses.

I have had the privilege to get to know Joevanny and his family over that span and, when we started this process, I said to him “Man, I don’t know how you or your wife get up every day.” I have two kids of my own and I have no words to describe how I would feel if anything were to happen to them.

No parent should ever have to go through what the Vargas family has and that’s why we are here today—to fight for change.

Today, we’ve met with [Sen.] Menendez, and Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Pete DeFazio. And we are on our way to meet with Congressman Payne, Congressman Sires, and Congressman Malinowski. So, today, Joevanny and I—together—are building a movement here to keep all of our children safe, specifically talking about my two pieces of bipartisan legislation.

The first is Miranda’s Law, named after Joevanny’s daughter. Miranda’s Law takes on a major safety roadblock we have to overcome: unfit school bus drivers, like the one driving Miranda’s bus that day.

Miranda’s Law will make sure that schools see red flags of a bus driver’s driving infractions, anything beyond a parking ticket, in real-time—within 24 hours—so that we can remove these dangerous school bus drivers from the road.

We’re also fighting for our SECURES Act, which will require three-point seatbelts on all school buses—which will save so many lives. Current federal law only requires seat belts on small school buses, not the larger ones that our children often ride on. Only eight states, including New Jersey now, require them on those bigger buses. We need to make sure this is the case all around the country.

My SECURES Act also spurs the DOT to consider any innovative approaches to seat belt detection, seat belt reminder systems, and seat belt violation alert systems that could be incorporated into school bus designs. Nowadays, cars have lane-changing alerts and even airbags on our seatbelts. Yet, when I look at the school buses transporting my kids, they look no different than the ones I rode when I was their age.

There’s nothing partisan about protecting our country’s children. The issues we are talking about today are not Democratic or Republican issues. They’re mom and dad issues. They’re good for New Jersey issues. And they’re good for America issues.

And, speaking of bipartisanship, I want to thank my Republican co-sponsors of both these pieces of legislation, Elise Stefanik and Tom Reed—both of New York.

Our work today, with our meetings all around Capitol Hill, is paving the way to get this legislation passed in the House—and to get companion legislation going in the Senate.

We are honoring the life of Miranda Vargas and doing everything we can to make sure our kids are as safe as they can be. We live in the greatest country in the world, and if we are to ensure that our best days will always be ahead of us, we have to protect our children—our future.