New Jersey Lawmaker Proposes School Bus Seat Belt Law

Anybody who remembers spending a ride tossing and jolting in the double-wide seat of a school bus probably wonders why school buses don’t have seat belts. Especially when you consider that school buses transport more than 25 million children to and from school.

In New Jersey, one lawmaker is hoping to change this status quo: Congressman Josh Gottheimer has proposed a bill to require seat belts on buses.

Gottheimer’s bill, known as the Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) act, would require that all school buses nationwide have three-point lap-and-shoulder seat belts. The bill also stipulates technology that ensures students are wearing their seat belts while riding the bus.

In his announcement video, Rep. Gottheimer compared the proposed technology to the alerts we encounter in our cars every day: “In my own car and probably like many of your cars, if you don’t put your seatbelt on, what happens? It starts to ding, it flashes, there’s lights, an alert on your dash panel.” 

While New Jersey is currently in the minority of states that require lap belts on school buses, right now the state does not require three-point belts or the proposed new tech. Rep. Gottheimer is also calling on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to “study and take immediate action” to ensure that every school bus driver has the qualifications and safety record appropriate to the transportation of children.

Rep. Gottheimer’s bill has been proposed in response to a real and present need in the transportation sector. Though most school buses have an excellent safety record, bus collisions can lead to serious injuries, and expensive recoveries. According to Preszler Law Firm, a firm specializing in personal injury, insurance companies will provide as much as $1 million in lifetime benefits for medical and rehabilitative care in the case of lifetime injuries. But even this number often falls short of what families need.

Autumn Lake Healthcare, a health care center in Carneys Point, NJ that specializes in assisted living services, short-term rehabilitation, respite care, and hospice care, notes that even short-term rehabilitation often involves occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. A catastrophic injury for a young person can result in a lifetime cost of over $4.7 million, as estimated by the Reeve Foundation.

Furthermore, the law is being proposed in conjunction with another bill to tighten school bus safety procedures. This second bill, nicknamed Miranda’s Law, is named after Miranda Vargas, a fifth-grader from Paramus who was killed alongside a teacher when the school bus they were riding in collided with a dump truck.

If it passes, Miranda’s Law would create a notification system for school districts and school bus companies whenever a bus driver receives a violation. Right now, school bus drivers are expected to self-report violations, which has resulted in underreporting. The bus driver transporting Vargas and her teacher had his license suspended 14 times. Rep. Gottheimer’s two proposed bills aim to put an end to preventable tragedies by making bus rides into the safe, trustworthy jaunts they should be.

As Gottheimer’s House of Representatives website notes, the legislation is co-sponsored by New York representative John Faso, and paired with a senate bill sponsored by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. If the law passes, the Department of Transportation would begin the rulemaking process to draft new federal requirements for school buses.

There are currently only eight states that require seat belts on school buses. The SECURES Act would require every state to meet and exceed current safety standards.

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