FAIR LAWN, NJ (Bergen County) – Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced Tuesday a bipartisan Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) Act of 2018 at the Fair Lawn Board of Education Transportation Depot. The legislation, co-led by Republican John Faso (NY-19) with Senate companion legislation introduced by Senator Bob Menendez, would require that all school buses have three-point lap-and-shoulder seat belts and encourage innovative measures to ensure that students are actually wearing their seat belts while on school buses.
Building on the SECURES ACT, Congressman Gottheimer is writing to state and federal transportation officials at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, asking them to study and take immediate action to ensure that all bus drivers are qualified to drive our children.
“My kids could have been on that bus – and I can’t imagine what those families are going through. As a parent and as a Congressman, I’m announcing the SECURES Act to help ensure that every child in America is as safe as possible when they’re on the road,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure children are safe, and parents have peace of mind, when they’re on a school bus,” said Sen. Menendez. “The recent tragedy only underscores why it’s important to review and upgrade safety standards over time. There was a time not too long ago when seat belts weren’t even required in cars, let alone school buses-but we owe it to our constituents to do everything in our power to improve the safety of our roadways. It’s time to make our school buses safer so no family has to ever endure the heartbreak being felt in Paramus.”
The SECURES Act requires seat belts on all school buses. Current federal law requires seat belts on small school buses-those less than 10,000 pounds-but not the larger school buses, like the ones used to take students on longer field trips. That decision is left to the individual states, and, as I noted earlier, only eight states require them. The SECURES Act would direct the Department of Transportation (DOT) to update the nationwide standard, so all students across the country share this basic level of protection that’s on all of our cars, Gottheimer said.
The act would make three-point lap-and-shoulder seat belts the national standard. Just last week, on May 22nd, in a special investigation report on school bus crashes in Maryland and Tennessee, the NTSB, for the first time, formally recommended that all new school buses be equipped with lap-and-shoulder belts, Gottheimer said.
According to the NTSB, “Properly worn lap-and-shoulder belts provide the highest level of protection for school bus passengers in all crash scenarios, including frontal, side, and rear impacts-and rollovers.” Research shows that while school bus designs are generally effective in protecting occupants in frontal- and rear-impact crashes, they are less effective in protecting from side-impact or rollover crashes.
New Jersey only requires lap belts on our school buses, instead of three-point lap-and-shoulder belts. Gottheimer is hopeful that we take steps here at the state level to remedy that.
NTSB specifically recommended that New Jersey and three other states that currently only require lap belts upgrade their requirements to lap-and-shoulder belts. The SECURES Act would require the DOT to include NTSB’s recommendations in its Federal rulemaking process, so that children in every U.S. state are as safe as humanly possible when riding a school bus.
Finally, the SECURES Act will encourage innovative measures to ensure that students are actually wearing their seat belts while on school buses. Three-point seat belts are effective in protecting kids during a crash only if they are being worn properly. That’s why my bill also encourages the DOT to consider any innovative approaches to seat belt detection, seat belt reminder systems, and seat belt violation alert systems that could be incorporated into school bus designs. It works to harness the power of technology and innovation-which for so long has remained untapped when it comes to school bus safety-to secure our kids. In my own car, if the passenger hasn’t buckled up, it alerts me. Why can’t we have alerts on a bus when a child isn’t wearing a seatbelt?, Gottheimer said.
“In this day and age, my credit card company alerts me within seconds if there’s a suspicious charge on my account. Ours cars have lane-changing alerts and even airbags on our seatbelts. Yet, in this age when we have an app for everything, when I look at the school buses transporting my kids, they look no different than the ones I rode when I was their age. That’s unacceptable,” Gottheimer said.