After school bus crash, NJ lawmaker demands national seat-belt law
PARAMUS — Less than two weeks after a school bus crash killed two residents of his congressional district, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer has introduced a bill requiring three-point seat belts on large school buses.
Gottheimer said New Jersey's current laws only support lap belts and he'd like to see lap-and-shoulder belts become the national standard. The measure he presented in the House, called the SECURE Act, also requires bus drivers to check all students' seat belts before the bus can move.
A fifth-grade student and 51-year-old teacher died with more than 40 others injured on May 17 when a Paramus school bus attempted an illegal U-turn on Route 80 and was struck by a dump truck. Some of the victims remain hospitalized.
As a father of two students attending school near Paramus, Gottheimer said he was stunned to learn of New Jersey's lax bus driver regulations.
"Why aren't we making sure and doing everything possible to have only the best driving our kids around?" the 5th District Democrat said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is introducing a companion bill in the Senate. Both bills have bipartisan support and follow National Transportation Safety Board regulations that were released not long after the crash.
At the state level, meanwhile, a lawmaker in Trenton also has been trying to get New Jersey's law to mandate shoulder belts.
“I’ve been trying for four years to pass common-sense legislation to protect students on school buses with three-point seat belts,” state Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-Middlesex, said last week.
New Jersey, which passed its lap belt law in 1992, is one of just seven states that requires seat belts of any kind on all school buses.
But if Gottheimer is successful, an even stricter seat-belt law would be the rule nationwide.
"If you're a parent and you care, we should do this," Gottheimer said. "This is one of those things where you read about and get to the bottom of quickly, and understand that there's no reason why we're not addressing it."
Daniela Berson is the evening anchor on New Jersey 101.5. Contact her at Daniela.Berson@townssquaremedia.com