A bill requiring the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to conduct unscheduled surprise inspections of school buses in addition to annual scheduled inspections advanced out of a Senate Transportation Committee meeting.
Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., who chairs the committee, spoke about the bill, of which he is the primary sponsor.
“This commonsense bill would not be adding any additional requirements except, as opposed to the inspections being scheduled, there will be potential surprise inspections, so that we will know the operator has the bus as safe as it can be, up to standards, and all of the necessary requirements of the drivers are in place,” Diegnan said following Thursday’s committee meeting at the State House.
The bill was unanimously released in a 7-0 vote and referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee.
The bill would also provide that any fine imposed pursuant to the “School Bus Enhanced Safety Inspection Act” that is collected and remitted to the MVC would be required to be used for the continued administration of the program.
The bill would take effect on the first day of the first full fiscal year following enactment.
“This is nothing more than making the inspection as safe and as thorough as it can be,” Diegnan said. “Anything we can do to protect our children’s lives.”
A surprise inspection by state officials in 2019 found nine school bus drivers dropping off students with disabilities at a school in Nutley either did not have proper driver’s licenses or documentation.
That year, New Jersey issued an average of eight safety violations for every bus inspected by surprise, compared with one violation for every 345 buses inspected during a pre-announced inspection.
The state inspects only about 100 school buses annually via unannounced inspections, compared to inspecting 47,000 buses during pre-scheduled inspections.
The bill helps to ensure the safety of New Jersey students who depend on school buses and bus drivers to transport them to and from school by increasing the number of scheduled and surprise school bus inspections. It requires a minimum of one scheduled inspection and one surprise inspection per year.
The inspections include vehicle maintenance and records, which demonstrate a driver's compliance with all statutory and regulatory requirements for authorization to operate a school bus.