Abigail’s Law Requires Sensors to Alert Bus Drivers of Children in Blind Spots

     Legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10) to improve the safety of children near school buses was approved by the New Jersey Senate in a 38-0 vote. The measure 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 legislation, S2011, 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, S503, would deter illegal passing by making it easier to identify and prosecute offenders and through substantially increased penalties.

     “If we employ 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.

     Abigail’s Law now heads to Governor Christie’s desk for approval. S503 passed the Senate on June, 29, 2015 and is awaiting a hearing by the Assembly Education Committee.

DIEGNAN, MOSQUERA, CAPUTO, JASEY & MUKHERJI BILL TO MAKE SCHOOL BUSES SAFER HEADS TO GOVERNOR’S DESK
‘Abigail’s Law’ Would Require Sensors on School Vehicles

     (TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick Diegnan, Gabriela Mosquera, Ralph Caputo, Mila Jasey and Raj Mukherji to establish new standards to improve school bus safety received final legislative approval Thursday in the Senate, by a vote of 38 to 0.

     The bill (A1455), to be known as “Abigail’s Law,” would require newly-manufactured school buses to be equipped with motion sensors to determine the presence of persons or objects passing in front of or behind a bus.

     The legislation is in honor of Abigail Kuberiet, a child who tragically lost her life in 2003 standing in front of a stopped school bus in South Plainfield. The bus operator was unable to see the child from the driver’s seat.

     Following the Senate giving the measure final legislative approval, Diegnan and Mosquera issued a multimedia package on the bill, which includes testimony given by Diegnan – who represents the Kuberiets – during an Assembly Education Committee hearing last November.

     The video can be accessed directly at www.assemblydems.com<http://www.assemblydems.com>.

     The audio file is available upon request.

     A transcript of comments from Diegnan and Mosquera is appended at the end of the release.

     “The use of available technology will facilitate safe driving and prevent fatal accidents,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “When an alarm sounds if a child is in the vicinity of the bus, the operator will immediately be made aware of the situation and will not move forward, and a life will be saved.”

     Children are more likely to be killed as pedestrians outside a school bus, and most often by their own school bus, according to the National Coalition for School Bus Safety. The majority of these accidents involve very young children.

     “Regardless of how much we teach the importance of school bus safety to children, accidents can happen in just the blink of an eye,” said Mosquera (D-Camden / Gloucester). “Putting sensors on buses simply is an additional step that can help reduce the likelihood of an accident and keep children in New Jersey safe.”

     “The primary purpose of a school bus is making sure students get to and from school safely,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “This legislation will allow buses to better serve that purpose for the benefit of children all across New Jersey.”

     “School transportation-related accidents involving small children are always some of the most tragic,” said Jasey (D-Essex / Morris). “This simple, life-saving technology can help protect students, drivers and pedestrians and prevent another New Jersey family from losing a child.”

     “Just like the seat belts, flashing lights and extended stop arms with which school buses already are equipped, motion sensors are a safety feature that can decrease the likelihood of serious injuries and fatalities involving buses,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Unfortunately, we can’t predict when and where an accident will happen, but we can and should do all that we can to make school transportation vehicles as safe as possible.”

     The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

     Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. (D-Middlesex), Assembly Education Committee Chairman:

     “This bill is very personal to me. Um, it’s a tragedy that to this very day I find to be incomprehensible.

     “A daughter of, actually, one of our Middlesex County prosecutors – Chris Kuberiet – who, he and his wife are just terrific people. The one daughter was getting on the bus. The other little toddler – a two-year-old – follows her.

     “The little girl is standing in front of the bus. The arm goes out. She was so little that she was underneath the arm and the bus driver rode over her. It was… and then Chris being a prosecutor actually responded to the scene.

     “She was so little that the bus driver didn’t even know he did it. Two stops later, the police actually stopped the bus, took everybody off and the poor bus driver had a nervous breakdown as a result.

     “It’s just a tragedy on so many levels.”

     Assemblywoman Gabriela M. Mosquera (D-Gloucester), Assembly Women and Children Committee Chairwoman:

     “Abigail’s Law is very simple. It just, basically, would require school busses to have sensors. So, school bus drivers would know when there is a child in front or behind the school bus. It’s just basically an added safety mechanism, just to ensure the safety of the child.”

     Diegnan:

     “This tragedy occurred in 2003 and it’s beyond frustration that this still isn’t the law of the State of New Jersey. This is not a pie in the sky technology. I’m sure that every person’s car has this exact technology in it right now, and it is my hope, my prayer, in this particular case, we get this through, get it on the governor’s desk and… and let’s… let’s do what’s right, first of all, in memory of poor Abigail, and to give her parents some kind of comfort.

     “And also, most importantly to make sure it never happens again.”