Thousands of students across the state of California rely on school buses for transportation to and from school. Bus drivers must follow safety measures while operating these vehicles to ensure that students arrive at school and home without any injuries or accidents. However, driving is not the only time that students face potential harm while on the school bus.
Following the unfortunate death of one student in 2015, California passed Senate Bill 1072, also known as the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law, to increase school bus safety.
Origin of the Law
On September 11, 2015, Hoon Jun “Paul” Lee died in a school bus. It was not the result of a bus accident, but instead from overheating. After completing his rounds for the morning, the bus driver had parked the bus in the lot and left. Lee was in the bus in 90-degree weather with the windows shut. Authorities discovered him over seven hours later, dead.
Lee, a nonverbal autistic, did not receive any help with getting off the bus. The driver, Armando Abel Ramirez, failed to notice Lee was still on board, despite the boy sitting upright and being tall enough to be visible over the top of the seat. Ramirez did not conduct a proper check of the bus before departing. Lee was 19 years old.
In response to the incident, California signed the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law in early 2016.
What Does the Law Do?
The Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law is a measure to prevent future incidents of students left on school buses. It requires all old and new school buses in the state to have a child safety-alarm equipped. Other vehicles responsible for transport of students, especially those with special needs, will also require safety alarms. The alarm must meet California Highway Patrol regulations.
The alarm works whenever the driver shuts the bus down. The alarm will emit a noise until the driver presses the stop switch – which is at the back of the bus. As such, the driver will have to walk through the whole bus to turn the alarm off, checking for any children in the process.
Other vehicles that transport students do not require alarms if they meet certain conditions, such as not only transporting pupils, the presence of a responsible adult chaperone, and drivers filling out forms after each student-based trip that confirms that no children are still on the vehicle.
The bill also adds a provision that all school bus drivers must receive additional child-safety check training when renewing their bus driver safety certificates. Like their certificates, this additional training must happen every year.
Through the combination of alarm systems and further safety training, California hopes to better equip school bus drivers with the skills necessary to keep students safe, even after the bus has pulled off the road.
When Does the Law Go into Effect?
The original version of the Paul Lee School Bus Safety law was set to go into effect during the 2018-2019 school year. By that time, all school buses were to have CHA-approved children safety alarms. However, the statewide need for new alarm systems posed challenges for schools due to the limited number of producers and installers for such systems. The late approval of the exact alarm requirements also caused delays for schools implementing the new protocol.
Due to the complications, California made steps to pass Senate Bill 1269, which would increase the deadline for installation of child safety alarms until the 2019-2020 school year. The current version of the bill requires vehicles responsible for special needs students to have proper alarm systems by the 2018-2019 school year, while other vehicles have six additional months to meet the policy requirements.