NJ Lawmakers Look to Re-test Older School Bus Drivers
Following the fatal Paramus school bus crash that killed a middle school student and a teacher on Route 80 in May, efforts are being fast-tracked to ramp up school bus safety in the Garden State.
The state Senate Transportation Committee gave the green light to a legislative package that aims to make school buses safer, including by having monitors travel on all buses to watch students, increasing the flow of information about a bus driver’s safety record and requiring drivers to be certified more frequently.
State Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, the chairman of the committee, said after the accident it became clear that “in many cases there were issues concerning the operation of the particular bus as opposed to the actual integrity of the bus.”
He stressed what they’re trying to do is “put in place common-sense procedures, regulations, accountability as to how drivers are chosen, how they are reviewed and how they are qualified to operate the buses.”
Diegnan noted one measure would require older school bus drivers to get tested on a regular basis.
“If you’re age 70 we’re now going to require annual physical and cognitive review. If you’re 75 it’s going to be bi-annual.”
He pointed out many older bus drivers in their 70s are wonderful with kids and are still good drivers. But requiring them to be tested is common sense.
The school bus driver in the deadly crash a few months ago was 77 years old. Hudy Muldrow Sr. is facing two counts of death by auto.
The bills approved by the Committee on Thursday would require:
— The Commissioner of Education to form a group to study the safety of school bus passengers in various emergency situations, and recommend safety improvements.
— All school buses display a phone number or a website clearly visible on the back of the bus so
the public can report a bus driver for speeding or unsafe driving.
— Bus drivers to submit a medical exam as proof of physical fitness. School bus drivers that are 70 or older would be required to submit proof of physical fitness annually, and drivers over the age of 75 will be required to submit proof every six months.
— A school district’s board of education and their school bus contractor to notify the Department of Education if a school bus driver’s license was suspended or revoked.
— Bi-annual safety education for school bus drivers and aides. School bus staff members would have to go through training at the beginning of the school year, and again during the second semester.
— Boards of education and contractors that provide school transportation services to hire school bus safety personnel that would travel on buses to enforce rules and make things safer.
— School district transportation supervisor with less than 11 years’ experience, and all newly hired transportation directors to complete a certification program.
— School bus operators in New Jersey to comply with certain federal regulations that cover drug testing and safety procedures and requirements.
— School bus drivers to re-take the school bus endorsement knowledge test each time the school bus driver applies to renew his or her commercial driver’s license.