NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today announced that he will introduce new legislation to improve school bus safety—including advancing new recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that all new school buses be equipped with three-point, lap-shoulder seat belts—following the deadly Paramus school bus crash. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.-05) and John Faso (R-N.Y.-19) are planning to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“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.”

On May 17, a student and teacher died when their school bus, carrying 38 fifth-graders and six teachers from East Brook Middle School in Paramus, N.J., to a field trip at Waterloo Village, crashed on I-80 in Morris County, causing the bus to overturn and rip from its chassis. New Jersey is just one of eight states to require seat belts on school buses, but only lap belts.

“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 Rep. Gottheimer.

The Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) Act would:

  • Require the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to begin the rulemaking process on new Federal requirements for seat belts on school buses
    • Current Federal law requires seat belts on small school buses (under 10,000 pounds), but not on larger school buses. Only eight states, including New Jersey, have passed laws requiring seat belts on all school buses, regardless of weight. This bill would direct the USDOT to update the nationwide standard, so that all students across the country have the same level of protection.
  • Direct the USDOT to consider the added safety benefits of lap/shoulder seat belts in the rulemaking process
    • The NTSB, for the first time, formally recommended that all new school buses be equipped with lap/shoulder belts in a May 22, 2018 special investigation report on school bus crashes in Maryland and Tennessee, concluding: “Properly worn lap/shoulder belts provide the highest level of protection for school bus passengers in all crash scenarios, including frontal, side, and rear impacts—and rollovers.”
    • Current New Jersey law only requires lap belts, instead of three-point lap/shoulder belts. NTSB specifically recommended that New Jersey and three other states that currently only require lap belts upgrade their requirements to lap/shoulder belts. This bill would require USDOT to include NTSB’s recommendations in the Federal rulemaking process, so that children in every U.S. state are as safe as humanly possible when riding a school bus.
  • Encourage innovative measures to ensure that students are using seat belts
    • Three-point seat belts are only effective in protecting kids during a crash if they are being worn properly. That’s why this bill would encourage USDOT 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.