PARAMUS, N.J. — Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Saturday legislation requiring new school buses to be equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts, an upgrade from the previous law, which requires only lap belts on all school buses.
Bill A4110, which the law is based on, was created in response to the Paramus East Brook Middle School bus crash, which killed a teacher and a student. On May 17, a school bus carrying 38 students and seven adults from Paramus Public Schools collided with a dump truck on a highway. Teacher Jennifer Williamson, who taught at East Brook Middle School for more than 20 years, and 10-year-old student Miranda Vargas died in the crash.
As previously reported, the bus driver involved in the crash, Hudy Muldrow Sr., 77, was apparently attempting to make a U-turn. He was charged with two counts of reckless vehicular homicide/death by auto.
“We will never know if a three-point belt would have saved the lives of Miranda Vargas and Jennifer Williamson, or whether they would have prevented serious injury to so many others on May 17,” Murphy said in a news release posted by his office. “Every child and every educator and adult chaperone deserves our best effort to protect their safety and the best possible chance of emerging unharmed in the unfortunate event of a school bus accident. For Miranda and Mrs. Williamson and for all the children in New Jersey and for their families and communities, I am honored to sign this legislation.”
A4110, which modifies existing law, P.L.1992, c.92., requires school buses to have a lap-shoulder belt or other child restraint system for each seat on the bus in conformity with federal standards.
The legislation takes effect immediately and applies to school buses manufactured on or after 180 days of Murphy’s signature.
“We know that lap belts are not enough to keep kids safe in a school bus crash,” said Sen. Sam Thompson. “That’s why I’ve worked hard over the past five years to have New Jersey’s school buses equipped with three-point seat belts. I’m glad that Governor Murphy has signed this measure into law.”
"Following the bus accident that tragically took the lives of a Paramus student and teacher, I called for legislative hearings to improve safety,” said Sen. Joseph Lagana. “We heard moving testimony from a family friend of mine that survived the crash. He wondered why school buses didn’t have the same kind of seat belts as his parents’ car that came with over the shoulder seat belts. With the signing of this bill into law, we are ensuring our children will be protected the way they deserve."
“The May bus crash was a tragic reminder of how vulnerable our students are while riding on school buses,” said Assemblywoman Lisa Swain. “Cars are equipped with seat belts and for good reason. They can prevent fatalities and minimize injuries. I’m happy that this bill, one of my very first as a representative of this community, is now law, and will help keep our students safe by requiring three-point lap and shoulder seat belts in all school buses.”
Also in response to the fatal crash in May, the Paramus Public Schools’ Board of Education voted in June to add three-point belts to an order of four buses it had planned to purchase before the crash.
View an announcement and video on Facebook from Gov. Murphy on signing the bill below.