The following editorial by Senator Sam Thompson on legislation that would require all new school buses to include three-point lap and shoulder belts was published in the Times of Trenton on March 13, 2015:
As our communities grow concerned over yet another New Jersey school bus crash, I am trying to do everything possible to ensure the passage of legislation to keep our children secure and safe every time they step onto a school bus.
Sen. Sam Thompson’s legislation would implement recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics that all new school buses be equipped with lap/shoulder seat belts. (Caitlin Regan/Flickr)
In 2013, I introduced S632, which would require all new school buses to include three-point lap and shoulder belts, following school bus crashes in Chesterfield and a pair in Old Bridge, and others more recently in Bergen and Mercer counties. On March 9, a school bus was struck from behind by another vehicle in Lumberton (“School bus turns over in Lumberton,” March 9, nj.com), flipping the bus onto its side, reportedly injuring one of the three students who were on board.
It is clear that children in school buses are in no way immune to dangers of the road faced by all other motorists and passengers and that our next generation must have the same protections no matter what vehicle they are traveling in.
I am continuing my calls to the Senate Democrat leaders, who control what legislation is posted for a vote, asking them to allow an education committee hearing on S632 in the immediate future.
We make sure that our children wear their lap and shoulder belts every time they enter cars. Why should a school bus be any different? Parents should not have to give up the expectation of safety every time their child steps onto the school bus.
The seat belts called for in my legislation would be the same three-point lap-and-shoulder-belt system children use in their family cars every day. Aside from increasing safety in a crash, the three-point harness system will reduce dangerous distractions for bus drivers, as children who wear lap and shoulder belts are less likely to act out. The addition of a shoulder strap will also make it easier for bus drivers to see whether students are actually wearing their seat belts.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates a long-standing position that school buses should contain lap and shoulder belts and accommodate booster and car seats, and that school districts should ensure that all safety restraints are height- and weight-appropriate. This legislation was modeled on initiatives in California and Texas that require all new school buses to include three-point restraints on all seats.
New Jersey law requires only lap belts to be installed on all school buses. This outdated law has not been revised since it was passed in 1992 — nearly 25 years ago.
Several months ago, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee passed S2026, which would update state laws on the use of car seats in passenger vehicles. It is now time to join together to make sure all child passengers are safe. Let’s get S632 moving immediately, starting with a committee hearing and vote at the next scheduled meeting.