TRENTON, N.J. — State lawmakers are considering a package of 10 bills that aim to improve school bus safety and accident response by addressing driver qualifications and transportation staffing, and tightening accountability measures.
The bills, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lagana and Sen. Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, were voted through the committee unanimously, according to a news release from Diegnan’s office.
“We have to work to make sure that our children are safe when they get on a school bus,” Diegnan said. “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.”
Diegnan added in the news release that the package of bills focuses on school bus operations and requiring drivers to comply with both state and federal regulations, ensuring school bus drivers are knowledgeable of how to handle a bus, and the procedures in the event of an accident.
The bills also call on the public to report a bus that they see being driven recklessly, Diegnan said.
“These new changes, if implemented, will go a long way in making sure we improve school bus safety for our children,” he added.
The bills in the package are:
• S-1773, which would require that all school buses have a phone number or website displayed on the rear of the bus so motorists can report bus driver misconduct. The bill would take effect immediately and be applicable to the next school year starting July 1.
• S-2754, which would require the commissioner of education, in consultation with directors of other relevant departments, to study the safety of school bus passengers in various emergency situations. Following an investigation, the commissioner would issue a report to the governor and the Legislature summarizing their findings and recommendations for improving the safety of school bus passengers.
• S-2755, which would require any school district transportation supervisor with less than 11 years of experience and all newly hired transportation directors to complete a certification program as a condition of employment.
• S-2848, which would require bus drivers to submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination conducted by a medical examiner 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, and drivers over the age of 75 would be required to submit proof every six months.
• S-2850, which would require a school district’s board of education and its school bus contractor to provide a statement to the Department of Education within 24 hours with notification of the suspension or revocation of a school bus driver’s license.
• S-2851, which would require boards of education and contractors that provide school transportation services to employ school bus safety personnel. Safety personnel would be required to ensure the compliance of state and federal laws, rules, and regulations, that the best training in emergency equipment is provided, and that accident prevention practices are followed.
• S-2852, which would require school bus operations in New Jersey to comply with parts of the Code of Federal Regulations covering several areas, including drug testing and safety procedures and requirements.
• S-2853, which would require biannual safety education for school bus drivers and aides. School bus staff members would participate in 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.
• S-2854, which would require school bus drivers to retake the school bus endorsement knowledge test each time they apply to renew their commercial driver’s license to maintain their school bus endorsement.
• S-2855, which would require school districts to develop and implement a policy requiring 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.
Meanwhile, as SBF previously reported, S-233 and companion bill A-4110, which would require all new school buses in New Jersey to be equipped with lap-shoulder belts, an upgrade from the current law requiring only lap belts on all school buses, passed the state Assembly and Senate in June. It now awaits the governor’s signature.