SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A simple, but important safety feature could soon be required for all school buses in California.
"It saves lives," said Jana Graham, Supervisor of Training, Student Transportation of America. "It makes the driver get up and walk their bus for any sleeping student or students that may be left behind."
Introduced by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), SB 1072 (The "Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law") would require school buses to install a safety-alarm system. Last week, the bill passed through the Senate and Assembly. It now only needs a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown to be put into law.
"It ensures that the bus is checked before being parked in the lot, whether it's in the morning or in the evening and there's no children left on board," said Graham.
Many buses already have the safety alarm systems installed, including those driven by Student Transportation of America (STA), which buses students in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. According to Graham, the company had the alarm systems put into all of their buses seven years ago.
"Safety is our number one priority at STA," said Graham. "With the child-check system on the buses, the driver is checking, so if there is a sleeping student, you'll be able to wake them. If they fell asleep and missed their bus stop, you'd be able to take them back and call it in. It ensures that the bus is checked before being parked in the lot, whether it be in the morning or in the evening and there are no children left on board."
As the passage of bill nears, it comes nearly one year after a special-needs student in Whittier was left on the board on a school bus. Last September, Hun Joon "Paul" Lee died while sitting in a hot bus for several hours. Last week, another special-needs student was left in a bus in Apple Valley for about an hour. The student was unharmed, but supporters of the bill emphasize it illustrates the need for alarm systems.
"No parent should fear that their child will not return home safely at the end of the day," said Mendoza. "It is vital that we do everything we can to protect the many thousands of children transported daily to and from school," said Senator Tony Mendoza.
In addition to requiring the installation of alarm systems, SB 1072 would require drivers, upon the renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate, to receive training in child-safety check procedures, add a requirement to ensure that the Department of Motor Vehicles is notified of cases when a child is left on a bus unattended, grant school districts and school bus contractors a grace period of eight months to install a child-safety alarm system.
With the approval of both legislative houses, Governor Brown will now have until September 30th to act on SB 1072.