School Bus Safety – NJ Lawmaker Says Lap Belts Are Not Enough
School buses in the Garden State are not required to come equipped with shoulder harnesses, only lap belts. One lawmaker said he has been working for over two years to change the law.
On March 17, eight middle school students were injured in a school bus crash in Bridgewater. The following day 10 people, most of them students were injured in another school bus accident in Westhampton.
"Three-point lap and should belts are the same ones the kids use in their family cars every day. Why should a school bus any different? Parents should not have to give up the expectation of safety every time their child steps onto a school bus," said state Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge).
Legislation (S-632) first introduced by Thompson in 2013 would require all new school buses to be equipped with both lap belts and shoulder belts.
"It's only for new school buses. If we can get that started first then we can consider the others later. It's easier to get that done now," Thompson said. "If you start talking about retrofitting every one of them, that's a lot of money that's not available. At least we could see that no new buses come out that don't have them."
The bill would implement the recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all new school buses come equipped with the shoulder and lap belts.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
- From 2001-2010 there were 1,368 people who died in school transportation related crashes -- that's an average of 137 deaths per year;
- Occupants of the school transportation accounted for only 7 percent of the fatalities;
- 72 percent of the fatalities were occupants of other vehicles;
- 21 percent were non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc).
One child school bus death is one too many particularly if it was possible to prevent it Thompson said.
"It's time we joined together to make sure all child passengers are safe," he said. "This bill, if we can get it moving, that would do it."