Gottheimer bill calls for seat belts on school buses, mum on background checks

Congressman Josh Gottheimer was in Fair Lawn to talk about school bus safety. In the aftermath of the fatal school bus crash on Route 80, Gottheimer said it was time for the federal government to join New Jersey in requiring all school buses to have seat belts, preferably the three-point shoulder restraints.

“I couldn’t believe that only eight states, only eight, require any type of seat belts,” he noted. “Every day, though, nearly 600,000 school buses carry more than 25 million students to and from school, from activities and class trips.”

Gottheimer says more than 300 students have died in school bus crashes between 2006 and 2015. The first-term congressman, who represents Paramus, said as a parent of public school children he was outraged at how lax school bus seat belt rules are.

“It’s unconscionable,” he added. “We must do more to keep our kids safe in the event of the unthinkable.”

The Democrat’s bill would require the lap seat belts, but only recommends the three-point restraints and does nothing to require driver background checks. That became an issue when we learned that the driver of the bus that crashed on Route 80 two weeks ago – Hudy Muldrow – had had his license suspended 14 times, had eight speeding tickets and a careless driving summons. On that question neither Gottheimer, nor Michele Robinson, the Paramus Schools superintendent, had any answers to give.

Gottheimer was asked several times whether he thought that, given what he knew about the driver, should he have been driving the bus. He said he was “deeply concerned” and it was “why I’m standing here” and “we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

The superintendent was even less direct. She said the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission gave the school system the green light to hire the driver, saying he was a “driver in good standing.”

The MVC says the Department of Education is responsible for background checks. Calls to the DOE were not returned.

“What do you think, superintendent? With that record, should he have been driving the bus?” we asked.

Robinson never answered that question, even as a gaggle of reporters followed her to her car. She’s been on the job in Paramus since coming over from the school system in Amesbury, Massachusetts in 2015. She said a review of the district’s bus driver hiring policy is now underway.

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