Murphy, citing tragedy, signs new school bus seat belt law
PARAMUS — Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday signed a law requiring all new school buses to be equipped with three-point belts that cross passengers' laps and shoulders.
The legislation was passed in response to the fatal school bus crash in May that killed elementary school teacher Jennifer Williamson and 10-year-old student Miranda Vargas.
The lap-and-shoulder belts will be required on all school buses manufactured 180 days from the law's signing.
“We will never know if a three-point belt would have saved the lives of Miranda Vargas and Jennifer Williamson, or whether they would have prevented serious injury to so many others on May 17,” Murphy said Saturday.
“Every child and every educator and adult chaperone deserves our best effort to protect their safety and the best possible chance of emerging unharmed in the unfortunate event of a school bus accident. For Miranda and Mrs. Williamson and for all the children in New Jersey and for their families and communities, I am honored to sign this legislation.”
State Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, had been pushing for the law years before the May crash. The legislation had bipartisan support.
Last month, the Paramus school district bought six buses equipped with the three-point seat belts.
The previous law, which was first passed in 1992, only mandated lap belts. New Jersey is among just seven states that mandate school bus seat belts of any kind. The state now joins California and Nevada in requiring the three-point belts.
Federal lawmakers are trying to make the three-point belts the national standard.
Prosecutors say the May bus crash on Route 80 in Mount Olive happened after driver Hudy Muldrow missed a turn and then tried to make a U-turn by crossing three lanes of traffic to get to an emergency lane. The bus was hit by a dump truck, which overturned the bus and tore it apart.
Muldrow, 77, has been charged with two counts of second-degree reckless vehicular homicide. He has denied wrongdoing.