A bill advancing in the New Jersey Assembly would require new school buses in the state to be equipped with lap and shoulder safety belts. It’s getting attention in the wake of a crash in North Jersey that killed two and injured more than 40 more.
Current New Jersey law requires school buses to have lap-only belts. It’s one of six states to require seatbelts at all on school buses.
Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez said including a shoulder strap would improve student safety. “For severe crashes, the three-point belt system ensures that students are not ejected from their seats should a rollover occur or should the bus receive a side impact. In lesser crashes a three-point seatbelt system still provides an extra layer of protection for our children,” she said.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee a day after 11-year-old Peter Caminiti told lawmakers about the head injury he suffered the May 17 bus crash in Mount Olive that killed another middle school student and a teacher. He urged that all school buses in the state have three-point seat belts. “This is what I want to see changed regardless of the cost. If you want to know about the finances, then I’m not that guy. I’m the one who wants to save lives and you can’t put a price on life,” said Caminiti.
Jonathan Pushman with the New Jersey School Boards Association supports the legislation but cautions it could have unintended consequences. “Three-point seat belts have the potential to reduce capacity on the school bus which would mean that we need to put more buses on the road if we’re going to serve the same number of students. And that could potentially exacerbate the school bus driver shortage,” he said.
Transportation Committee chairman Dan Benson said additional legislation that will focus on school bus drivers’ records is expected to be ready for lawmakers to consider in the fall. “There should be some type of violations that are disqualifying. Driving with a suspended license I think is one of those,” said Benson. “More importantly I think we shouldn’t have to wait for 12 points before training, looking at medical issues. But there’s a lot of interlocking issues here so we want to get it right.”