By ERIN ROLL
Student bus riders in New Jersey, including Montclair, will soon be clicking on their seat belts over their shoulders, as well as on their laps.
New school buses are now required to be equipped with three-point seat belts: belts that fasten over the shoulder and lap, the same as in cars.
Under the legislation, all new school buses manufactured 180 days after the legislation’s signing will be required to have three-point shoulder belts installed. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the legislation into law on Aug. 25.
There’s no requirement for older model school buses to be retrofitted with the shoulder strap. School buses can not be in use more than 12 years from their date of manufacture.
Legislation to require shoulder belts on buses came up for discussion after a school bus accident in Morris County killed two people in May. A school bus carrying a group of fifth-graders and chaperones from Paramus crashed on Interstate 80 near Mount Olive. One student and a chaperone were killed, and several other students were injured.
An investigation found that the bus driver had made an unauthorized turn after missing an exit to the field trip destination.
The law requiring shoulder restraints as well as lap restraints on school buses was introduced on June 4, less than a month after the Mount Olive accident.
Montclair contracts with two outside companies for its regular bus service: Essex Regional Educational Services Commission and Sussex Regional Education Services Commission, said Superintendent Kendra Johnson.
The district owns two buses for transporting special needs students and small groups of students.
“Montclair and our contracted bus companies are in compliance with the current requirements for seat belts,” Johnson said.
For Montclair’s two district-owned buses, the district has reached out to a vendor to get a quote on outfitting with three-point lap belts, Johnson said.
New Jersey is one of eight states that requires school buses to have lap seat belts, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. The state made it mandatory for school buses to have seat belts at the start of the 1994-1995 school year.
However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that children are statistically safer riding on a school bus than in a private vehicle. Fatalities involving school transportation vehicles account for about one percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide each year.
According to the American School Bus Council, two-thirds of fatalities involving school buses take place outside of the bus, often as children are getting on and off the bus. Vehicles passing the bus against the stop signal are a contributor to these fatalities, the council states. Motorists are required by law to stop in both directions when a bus is discharging students.
Montclair charges the following fees for busing: $400 for one student, $225 for a second student, $100 for a third student. All students after three are free. The maximum charge to a family for the school year is $725.