New Law Protects NJ’s Most Vulnerable [VIDEO]
Until yesterday, it was actually legal in New Jersey for drivers to keep on moving when a bus or other vehicle was flashing its red lights while picking up or dropping off a developmentally-disabled passenger. Not many drivers would do this, but if they did, they wouldn't get in trouble for it.
In addition, bus drivers weren't required to flash their lights when a disabled passenger was boarding or exiting.
Those facts are in the past now, with a bipartisan measure signed into law Thursday by Acting Governor Kim Guadagno.
The legislation requires school bus drivers to use flashing red lights when picking up or discharging passengers with disabilities. Also, other drivers must stop at least 25 feet from the bus that has its lights activated. The bill also establishes penalties for violators, consistent with what's currently in effect for child passengers on school buses.
"It closes a loophole in the statue that I think needed to be closed," Guadagno said during a State House press availability. "It's good, commonsense legislation."
Motorists who violate the law would face a fine of no less than $100, along with the possibility of 15 days in jail or 15 days of community service. Violators will also receive five points on their license.
Guadagno said the measure achieves three things: it protects the state's most vulnerable residents, appeases their parents, and it doesn't cost a dime.
She noted the law is not an unfunded mandate. Buses and other vehicles without the lights would not be forced to acquire them.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) was a primary sponsor of the measure. As the father of an adult daughter with a developmental disability, Sweeney said he's aware of the challenges they face every day.
Other sponsors included Senator Diane Allen (R), Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D) and Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D).
The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities expressed its support for the new law. "With this bill, the Governor and Legislature acknowledge the fact that we must consider all citizens in the planning and implementation of public programs and services," said Council Executive Director Alison Lozano.