(TRENTON) – Prompted by the deadly school bus accident on Interstate 80 in May, the full Assembly gave final legislative approval to six school bus safety bills sponsored by Assembly members Lisa Swain, Chris Tully, Daniel Benson, Patricia Egan Jones and Joann Downey. Each bill now heads to the Governor’s office for further consideration.
The bus accident, which occurred on Interstate 80 in Mount Olive this past May, carried students and teachers from Paramus. The driver, Hudy Muldrow Sr., 77, of Woodland Park, was charged with two counts of reckless vehicular homicide in the deaths of Miranda Vargas and Jennifer Williamson. Authorities say Muldrow attempted to use an official-only cut through on Route 80 after missing the exit for Waterloo Village. A dump truck in the center lane of I-80 hit the rear of the bus, ripping it from its chassis. More than 40 bus riders were injured in the crash.
“This terrible tragedy for our community occurred a week before Assemblyman Tully and I were sworn in, and we have made school bus safety our top priority because no parent should ever fear for their child when dropping them off at school,” said Swain (D- Bergen, Passaic). “These six bills addressed major concerns discussed since May and should help parents and students feel safer about riding the school bus.”
“Seeing firsthand the way this tragedy affected the Paramus community, Assemblywoman Swain and I made it our focus to push through the necessary reforms as quickly as possible,” said Tully (D- Bergen, Passaic). “These crucial pieces of legislation will close the gaps in reporting violations, create stronger suspension protocols to keep bad bus drivers off the road, and require additional safety training for drivers and aides.”
One of the bills approved (76-0) by the Assembly Monday (A-4447) – sponsored by Tully, Swain, Downey– requires the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission to suspend the school bus endorsement on a person’s driver’s license for 90 days if the person is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points.
During the investigation, it was discovered that the bus driver’s license was suspended 14 times over 42 years. Six of those were for parking violations; seven were for administrative or paperwork reasons. One of the violations was given for driving while his license was suspended. He also had eight speeding tickets, was cited for improper lane change in 2010 and was involved in five previous crashes.
“Any motor vehicle violation against a school bus driver should raise red flags within the MVC,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “When parents allow their children to ride the bus, they trust that every precaution has been taken to guarantee their student’s safety. This legislation will make sure a school bus driver’s motor vehicle violations do not go overlooked again.”
Also, among the bills approved today:
· A-4339(Swain/Tully/Benson/Jones) (78-0) – Requires school bus operations in State to comply with certain federal regulations.
· A-4342(Tully/Swain/Benson/Jones) (78-0) – Requires public school student to carry identification card at school-sponsored, off-campus activities and requires principal to keep list of students on school buses used for school-sponsored activities in case of emergencies.
· A-4344(Swain/Jones/Tully/Benson) (75-0) – Requires employing board of education or school bus contractor, within 24 hours of notification that school bus driver’s license is suspended or revoked, to verify to DOE that driver is no longer operating school bus.
· A-4345(Tully, Swain, Benson, Jones) (77-0) – Requires safety education training twice per calendar year for school bus drivers and school bus aides.
· A-4346(Tully/Swain/Benson/Jones) (75-0) – Requires school bus drivers to submit medical certificate to MVC to prove continuing physical fitness and to submit to medical examination that includes certain screenings.
“Having these safeguards in place will protect our students riding on school buses,” Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “Safety is and must always be a priority when transporting our students to and from school. Each of these bills aims to strengthen transportation policy and state law to ensure safety is remains paramount in school districts across the state.”
“Families deserve our full attention to the questions raised after the Paramus incident,” Jones (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Aligning state law with federal law and requiring certain medical screenings for drivers are two important steps toward ensuring stronger protections for student passengers.”
Swain, Tully and Benson are also sponsors of the law requiring three-point lap belt on school buses signed into law just before the start of the school year.