11-year-old Rt. 80 crash survivor pleads: Put 3-point seat belts on buses
Lawmakers and the Murphy administration are looking at ways to improve school bus safety, following a crash last month that killed a student and teacher from Paramus.
An 11-year-old who survived the accident, East Brook Middle School fifth grader Peter Caminiti, was among the speakers at a Statehouse hearing Monday. He recalled the bus ride to Waterloo Village on May 17.
“I was having a great time with my friends until, boom. I was knocked out,” Caminiti said. “I woke up hanging from my seat belt just before it was cut off by one of the first responders.”
Caminiti said he was initially confused and asked if he was going to die. He was diagnosed with a bad concussion and wasn’t able to return to full days of school this spring. But said he’s one of the lucky ones and is now pushing lawmakers to require three-point harness seat belts on school buses.
“Why would we make the buses that carry kids less safe than the cars than the cars that our parents drive us around in?” Caminiti said.
Caminiti said students also should have to carry identification, pointing to the initial confusion and inability to identify students in the crash’s immediate aftermath.
“This is what I want to see changed, regardless of the cost,” he said. “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.”
The Assembly transportation committee is due to vote Tuesday on a bill, A4110, that would require any future school buses to have three-point lap and shoulder seat belts, rather than just lap belts.
That’s a proposal that Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-Middlesex, has been making since 2013. The idea, which followed a 2012 crash between a Chesterfield school bus and Mack truck in which a sixth grader was killed, has only once gotten a committee vote.
Only seven states have seat belt laws for school buses, and only California and Nevada require three-point seat belts.
Separately from the legislative hearing, the state Department of Education and Motor Vehicle Commission are collaborating to make recommendations for how to improve school bus safety.
The driver in the crash that killed a Paramus teacher and fifth was 77 years old, and Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said age might be looked at, if it can be done in ways that aren’t discriminatory.
“There’s assessments maybe periodically that will allow them to have some kind of competency test. Maybe an extra driving test for those individuals that have the school-bus driver’s endorsement,” Repollet said.
Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, said nobody over age 75 should be driving a bus.
“You’re talking about a school bus. It’s not a compact car,” Diegnan said. “I just think to me that is a no-brainer.”
The driver in the Paramus crash, Hudy Muldrow Sr., has been charged with vehicular homicide. His driving history includes eight speeding tickets and four other moving violations over 43 years, as well as 12 driver’s license suspensions, though none of the suspensions were for moving violations.
The Motor Vehicle Commission forwards the Department of Education a list every weeknight of bus drivers whose licenses have been suspended. Repollet said the state is now trying to upgrade how it shares that information with districts and counties.
Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin asked if the standard for flagging school bus drivers should be stricter – perhaps 6 motor vehicle points instead of 12.
“It’s one thing about a driver’s license, but for purposes of school buses, if they’re having moving violations maybe every two years or every year, they’re not going to lose their license. But nevertheless there’s a real pattern and history of it,” McGuckin said.