Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, is introducing legislation that would make all states match Iowa and raise their penalties for drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. The “School Bus Safety Act” also requires background checks for school bus drivers in every state.
The Iowa legislature toughened its school bus law in 2012, after Northwood first-grader Kadyn Halverson was hit by a car as she crossed the street to board her bus. Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, says it’s important to mandate that states toughen their school bus laws. “Part of the reason is because we know from statistics in Iowa and around the country that this is a far too common occurrence. There is statistical data to support that it happens constantly,” Braley says.
The bill also requires states to conduct background checks on drivers and offers money for schools to install monitoring systems that let bus drivers know if there is a student in a blindspot. A student in the Janesville district was killed in 2011 after being run over by a school bus, and the district has since raised money to outfit buses with monitoring systems.
Braley says the bill is “self-funding” as states which do not raise penalties and institute background checks would lose ten percent of their highway funds. “They way the bill is structured, the mandated portion simply requires increased penalties for those who pass stopped school buses and it provides a grant program for the motion-activated detection system. It doesn’t mandate it, it allows school districts to voluntarily attempt to upgrade their system,” Braley says.
Other provisions of the bill would require background checks on bus drivers, create a grant program to allow school districts to test bus seatbelts, and directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study technology to get drivers to stop for school buses that are unloading kids. Braley sponsored an amendment to the transportation bill in 2012 to increase penalties for drivers who don’t stop for buses. It passed the U.S. House unanimously, but never made it to the Senate floor.