In the wake of the May 17 bus crash that claimed the lives of a Paramus student and teacher, and injured dozens more, a federal bill has been introduced to make seatbelts mandatory in all school buses.
Tuesday in Fair Lawn, Congressman Josh Gottheimer announced the bipartisan Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) Act of 2018, which would make seat belts mandatory in all yellow school buses across the country, as well as push the U.S. Transportation Department to make three-point belts the national standard.
Gottheimer's bill has the support of Republican Congressman John Faso (NY-19), and Senator Robert Menendez, who plans to introduce Senate companion legislation.
“My kids could have been on that bus – and I can’t imagine what those families are going through. As a parent and as a Congressman, I’m announcing the SECURES Act to help ensure that every child in America is as safe as possible when they’re on the road,” said Congressman Gottheimer.
Only school buses 10,000 pounds or less currently require seat belts under federal law. New Jersey state law mandates larger school buses must have lap belts but not lap-and-shoulder belts.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure children are safe, and parents have peace of mind, when they’re on a school bus,” said Senator Menendez. “The recent tragedy only underscores why it’s important to review and upgrade safety standards over time. There was a time not too long ago when seat belts weren’t even required in cars, let alone school buses—but we owe it to our constituents to do everything in our power to improve the safety of our roadways. It’s time to make our school buses safer so no family has to ever endure the heartbreak being felt in Paramus.”
The Transportation Department is urged, under Gottheimer’s bill, to consider nationwide adoption of a recent National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that four states - including New Jersey - that require lap belts in larger school buses upgrade their rules to require three-point belts.
The bill would also encourage the Transportation Department to consider seat belt reminder systems be mandatory in buses. These would alert bus drivers when students are not wearing their seatbelts.
The accident occurred when a bus carrying 38 students and six adult chaperones from East Brook Middle School in Paramus, en route to Waterloo Village, collided with a dump truck on Route 80. The bus driver was apparently attempting to cut across three lanes of westbound traffic, while attempting to make an illegal U-turn in a cut-through that is only reserved for emergency vehicles, according to police reports.
The bus driver, Hudy Muldrow Sr., 77, has been released from prison and ordered not to drive. He is awaiting trial on two counts of vehicular homicide. His license has been previously suspended 14 times.
A summary of the SECURES act can be found online.