Fatal Chesterfield School Bus Crash Serves as a Safety Reminder

By Lauren Wanko

At the Rahway Bus Company, school bus inspections are a daily event.

“School bus transportation is one of the safest modes of transportation,” says Tim Wallace, president of the New Jersey School Bus Owners Association.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that American students are nearly eight times safer riding in a school bus than with their own parents or guardians in a car. Wallace says, “They are built like tanks. The majority of the time, if they get into accidents the other party loses.”

Wallace, also president of the Rahway Bus Company in Colonia, explained the inspection that every bus driver completes before getting behind the wheel. The inspection takes about five minutes and covers all aspects of the bus, from checking the emergency exits, to examining the tires, to inspecting the seat belts.

New Jersey is one of only six states that requires seat belt use on school buses. But that doesn’t guarantee that children follow the law. The NTSB is investigating whether seat belts were a factor in the Chesterfield crash that killed one 11-year-old girl last week.

“We try to encourage students to use them. We have two means, one is passive. We have a sign that says seat belt saves lives… at the same time students are boarding we say good morning and buckle up… but there is no guarantee they are going to wear them,” says Wallace.

And the state has other safety requirements including semi-annual state inspections, as well as other inspections throughout the year. Drivers go through both a federal and state background check and are subject to random drug testing. Wallace’s new drivers go through 10 hours of classroom instruction and anywhere between 20 and 40 hours of on-the-road training.

Wallace says that he was deeply moved by the tragedy and it served as a reminder, that when it comes to school bus safety, one can never be too safe.