Senate Budget Committee Considers School Bus Safety Bills
On Thursday, September 13th, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met. A handful of bills on the Committee’s agenda sought to enhance local efforts to promote safer student transportation practices in all New Jersey schools. The following three bills were heard and reported favorably by the Committee:
- Legislation requiring boards of education and school bus contractors to employ certain school bus safety personnel (S-2851);
- Legislation requiring school bus drivers to a medical certificate to MVC to prove continuing physical fitness and to submit to medical examinations that include certain screenings (S-2848); and
- Legislation directing the Commissioner of Education to study the safety of school bus passengers in certain emergency situations, including school bus accidents (S-2754/A-4224).
S-2851 requires that boards of education and contractors that provide school transportation services under contract with boards of education employ certain school bus safety personnel. The bill requires these entities to employ school bus safety managers, whose responsibilities are to include: ensuring compliance with State and federal laws, rules, and regulations regarding school bus safety; providing periodic training in the proper use of emergency equipment; and the dissemination of industry best practices for avoiding accidents. These entities are to also employ supervisors of driver improvement, whose responsibilities are to include: providing professional development, including individualized behind the wheel training, to school bus drivers; and periodically accompanying school bus drivers on their appointed school bus routes.
Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education is authorized to audit compliance with the bill’s provisions. The school bus safety personnel is required to complete, and the board of education or contractor is required to retain, documentation to demonstrate compliance.
The Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is to promulgate regulations that: stipulate the appropriate number of personnel that must be employed based on the number of school bus drivers employed by the board of education or contractor; the qualifications necessary to hold the position; and the documentation that are required to be retained to demonstrate compliance with the bill’s provisions.
S-2848 requires the holder of a passenger endorsement or school bus endorsement issued pursuant to N.J.S.A.39:3-10.1 or an applicant for a passenger endorsement or school bus endorsement to submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME) maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The accompanying medical certificate completed by the medical examiner is required to contain the medical examiner’s NRCME number.
The bill requires the holder of a school bus endorsement who is 70 years of age or older to submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the NRCME on an annual basis and requires the holder of a school bus endorsement who is 75 years of age or older to submit proof of physical fitness in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the NRCME every six months.
The bill also requires that, in addition to any other exam required by law, all drivers of buses or other vehicles used by a board of education or by a private or parochial school for the transportation of pupils to and from school submit to a medical exam that includes cognitive, hearing, and visual acuity tests that are in accordance with the provisions of the “Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999” and any federal regulations promulgated pursuant to that federal law.
S-2754/A-4224 directs the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Superintendent of the Division of State Police, the Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, to study: the safety of school bus passengers involved in emergency situations, including, but not limited to, school bus accidents, such as head-on, rear-end, and side-impact collisions, and situations where the school bus may roll over; safety technologies, including, but not limited to, speed restrictors, automatic braking, electronic stability control, and event data recorders, that are available in newly manufactured school buses or may be installed in school buses after manufacture; and the qualifications for school bus drivers, including, but not limited to, age, physical fitness requirements, and necessary experience. The study is to include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety, the oversight of school bus operations, including, but not limited to, maintenance of vehicles, school bus drivers qualifications, and audits of school districts and contractors, and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts.
These bills now await consideration by the full Senate.