FAIR LAWN, N.J. – A New Jersey lawmaker has announced plans to introduce a bill that would require seat belts on all school buses nationwide.
If signed into law, the proposed legislation by Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) would mandate shoulder-and-lap seat belts on all school buses across the country.
The legislation has bipartisan support from a Republican co-sponsor in the Assembly and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who plans to introduce an identical bill in the Senate.
Gottheimer said only eight states in the country currently require seat belts on school buses.
"When I look at school buses transporting our kids, they look no different than the ones I rode," Gottheimer said. "How is it possible that 42 states allow children as young as kindergarteners to board buses every morning with nothing keeping them in their seats if, God forbid, there is an accident?"
The bill was authored following a deadly school bus crash in New Jersey earlier this month that killed teacher Jennifer Williamson, 51, and fifth-grade student, Miranda Vargas, 10. More than 40 others were injured.
The school bus they were riding on collided with a dump truck on I-80 in Mount Olive Township while on en route to a field trip at Waterloo Village, a historic site depicting a Lenape Indian community and once-thriving port.
Currently, students in New Jersey are required to wear only lap belts when riding a school bus. New York does not mandate seat belt use on school buses.
In addition to mandating lap-and-shoulder seat belts in all states, the bill would encourage seat belt alert systems, so that a driver can be made aware when a child on board in unbuckled.
Gottheimer said he plans to press federal and state agencies for immediate action to ensure all school bus drivers are properly qualified.
Hudy Muldrow Sr., 77, the driver in the Paramus school bus crash, has been charged with two counts of reckless vehicular homicide.
Records show he had a history of speeding violations and his license has been was suspended 14 times. It was valid at the time of the crash.
Reporters asked the superintendent of the Paramus School District at the time: why did they let him drive?
"With all school bus drivers, we get a full report from the state and the information that we receive from the state did not show moving violations," Dr. Michele Robinson said. "We review every report that we get. And that information we received from the state had him identified as a driver in good standing."
Gottheimer plans to introduce the legislation this week. Whether it will be passed in time for the next school year remains uncertain.