Legislation sponsored by New Jersey State Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10) to improve the safety of children near school buses was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. The law requires that new school buses be equipped with sensors to alert the bus driver when children walk in front of or behind the school bus.
The bill, S-2011 of the 2014/2015 legislation session, is named "Abigail's Law" in honor of Abigail Kuberiet, a toddler struck and killed by a school bus as it pulled away from a bus stop in South Plainfield in 2003. The bus driver didn't see Abigail in front of the bus and didn't know the accident had happened until contacted by radio after traveling several blocks.
"If a small child walks too closely in front of a large school bus, or stops to tie a shoe or pick up a dropped item while crossing, the bus driver may not be able to see them with tragic results," said Holzapfel. "Safety sensor technology that could protect children's lives is now available, affordable, and should be employed in school buses just as it is in many newer passenger cars."
The 2013-2014 National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey, which includes data provided by state agencies responsible for school transportation safety and/or accident records, found that four out of ten fatalities involving school children in or around the loading or unloading areas of a school bus were the result of being hit by the child's own bus while passing in a blind spot of the bus driver.
The survey also found that approximately half of the fatalities occurred as children crossing a street to board or after exiting a school bus were hit by passing vehicles that ignored the flashing lights and extended stop sign on the bus that require them to stop.
To address those fatalities, Holzapfel sponsors additional legislation which would establish a pilot program for municipalities and school districts to use video monitoring systems to help enforce laws against illegally passing a school bus. That measure, S-211, would deter illegal passing by making it easier to identify and prosecute offenders and through substantially increased penalties.
"By employing existing technology to discourage drivers from illegally passing stopped school buses and to alert bus drivers when someone is in front of or behind their buses, we can eliminate many of the pedestrian deaths of children that occur around school bus stops," added Holzapfel.
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