WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) today reintroduced a package of bills aimed at improving school bus safety following last year’s deadly crash on I-80 in Mount Olive, N.J., that killed a Paramus, N.J., fifth-grader and her teacher on a field trip. Sen. Menendez met in his D.C. office earlier in the day with Joevanny Vargas, the father of 10-year-old Miranda Vargas, who died in the May 17, 2018 crash.
“When a parent sends their child off to school or a field trip they must have the peace of mind that they will return safe and sound. What happened to Miranda Vargas, her classmates and teachers was heartbreaking and tragic, and could have been avoided. No parent should have to confront the pain Joevanny Vargas has had to endure, and I am inspired by his advocacy to ensure to other families don’t suffer such a horrible loss,” said Sen. Menendez. “We must do everything we can to protect our kids, and it’s time for the federal government to review and issue new school bus safety standards. This is about saving the lives of our children.”
“Every day parents are entrusting their child’s bus driver to get them to and from school safely and they deserve to know that the person behind the wheel is qualified,” said Sen. Booker. “By strengthening oversight and requiring notification of any changes in driving record, Miranda’s Law will ensure schools have the information they need about their bus drivers’ records so no family has to feel the heartbreak and loss experienced by the family of Miranda Vargas. This commonsense legislation will help keep our kids safe and their parents’ minds at ease.”
"I’m proud to have led the bipartisan House efforts for both Miranda's Law and the SECURES Act, to help protect our children on our school buses nationwide. I'm excited to announce with my New Jersey colleagues, Senators Menendez and Booker, that we now have bicameral bus safety legislation," said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (N.J.-05), who joined Sen. Menendez in the meeting with Mr. Vargas and is the chief sponsor of companion legislation in the House of Representatives. "And I'm so privileged to be on Capitol Hill with Joevanny Vargas and his family today as we fight for these bills and to make sure no other family has to go through this tragedy."
The Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) Act, originally introduced in the last Congress by Sen. Menendez and cosponsored by Sen. Booker, would instruct the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue new seat belt regulations and standards for school buses of all sizes. Current federal law only requires smaller school buses to have lap belts. The bill also instructs DOT to take into account the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) conclusion that three-point belts provide the highest level of protection for school bus passengers, and include innovative approaches to seat belt use detection and reminder systems as part of their rulemaking. The Paramus school bus involved in the crash was not equipped with three-point seat belts.
A second bill, entitled Miranda’s Law, introduced by Sen. Booker and cosponsored by Sen. Menendez, would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to implement a nationwide employer notification service (ENS) to provide real-time, automatic notifications whenever a bus driver’s license status changes because of a moving violation conviction, crash, license suspension, or other triggering event. Under current federal regulations, employers of school bus drivers are required to check their employees’ driving history records annually. Therefore, if a driver fails to self-report a traffic violation or license suspension, it could be up to 364 days before a school district or motor carrier obtains that information. Research has shown that only a little as half of commercial drivers actually self-report violations creating a serious safety risk, because across all vehicle types, suspended drivers have a crash rate 14 times higher than other drivers.
“We could have avoided this,” said Mr. Vargas, referring to the accident that took his daughter’s life. “Time is of the essence. We don’t want something [like this] to transpire [again].”
The school bus carrying 38 students and six teachers from East Brook Middle School in Paramus was headed to Waterloo Village, a historic site in Sussex County, when the bus driver made an illegal U-turn in the middle of the highway. The bus was struck by oncoming traffic, causing the vehicle to roll and be ripped from its chassis. Miranda Vargas and teacher Jennifer Williamson Kennedy were killed. The 77-year-old bus driver’s license had been suspended 14 times, including less than six months before the crash.