WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two federal lawmakers re-introduced legislation on Friday that aims to boost school bus safety by requiring lap-shoulder belts and safety technology on every school bus and provide funding for them.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) re-introduced the School Bus Safety Act of 2019 (H.R. 3959), which would implement safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to ensure there are seat belts at every school bus seat, and that buses are equipped with safety measures such as electronic stability control (ESC) and automatic braking systems. The bill would also create a grant program to help school districts include these safety modifications on their buses.
“No parent should have to worry about the safety of their children when they get on a school bus, but school buses often lack seat belts and other basic safety equipment that every parent demands,” Duckworth said in a news release from her office. “Nothing is more important than protecting our children, which is why I’m proud to be re-introducing the School Bus Safety Act with Rep. Cohen to help prevent accidents, make accidents less severe, and implement other common-sense safety recommendations that will save lives.”
“There’s no more precious cargo than school-aged children entrusted by their parents for a ride to school to get a good education,” Cohen said in a news release issued by his office. “The common-sense measures called for in this legislation will save young lives. I am pleased to re-introduce this legislation with Sen. Duckworth to make school buses across the country safer while helping often financially strapped school districts modify their school bus fleets. We’ve seen too many deaths in school bus accidents in Tennessee and elsewhere and it’s past time we act to save young lives.”
The School Bus Safety Act would also require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue rules requiring all school buses include:
• An event data recorder (EDR) that can record pre- and post-crash data, driver inputs, and restraint usage and when a collision occurs.
• A fire suppression system that, at minimum, addresses engine fires.
• A firewall that prohibits hazardous quantities of gas or flame from passing through the engine compartment to the passenger compartment.
If it passes, the bill’s requirements would go into effect one year after its enactment.
As SBF previously reported, the bill was initially introduced by Cohen as the “Bring Enhanced Liability in Transportation for Students (BELTS) Act” soon after the Nov. 21, 2016 school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tenn., in which six students were killed and more than 20 were injured.
As with the current legislation, the initial bill had called for grants to buy new school buses with the three-point restraints or to retrofit existing buses with them. The previous bill also would have created federal grants to equip school buses with motion-activated detection systems; directed the U.S. secretary of transportation to withhold 10% of a state’s federal-aid highway funds if it hadn’t enacted a law requiring background checks before hiring school bus drivers; and impose a highway funding penalty on states that didn’t enact or enforce a law imposing specified first-offense and second-offense penalties for motorists found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus.