A New Bill Shores Up School Bus Safety in Georgia
As of the end of March 2019, all school bus drivers in Georgia may need to be vetted twice per year by public safety officials. Georgia lawmakers recently passed a bus driver safety bill in the state Senate and House. The Georgia Senate passed the bill unanimously on March 26. The bill would make a new registry of school bus drivers in Georgia, in the Department of Public Safety. The bill, HB 459, would mandate Georgia school districts to turn in the name and driver’s license number of each school bus driver before they may drive a school bus. The Department of Public Safety would verify the information on every driver’s license. The agency would then call the local school board if the license was expired, cancelled or suspended. Also under the bill, all local school boards would need to update the bus driver list twice per year. Most legislators agree that the bill, assuming it becomes law this year, is a no-brainer as it would increase child safety on school buses in Georgia. The current law mandates only that local school boards are to do background checks and take fingerprints of drivers before they hire them. It is the job of the local school board to devise its own hiring practices for bus drivers. According to media reports this year, the Richmond County School System had hired drivers with extensive criminal records and long histories of traffic violations. If the governor signs the new law, school boards will be required to suspend bus drivers whose license is invalid. Another recent law regarding school buses in Georgia that should increase public safety is SB 25, passed in February by the state Senate. It states that only cars on roads that are divided by a grass median, or an unpaved road/area, or physical barrier do not need to stop when meeting or passing a school bus that is on the other side of the road. School public safety officials said the previous version of the law made it hazardous for students to get on/off school buses, as many car drivers were not required to stop when they probably should be. State statistics show that the most dangerous part of transporting students on buses is in loading and unloading. The more car drivers that are required to stop when the bus lights are flashing, the less likely a serious or fatal accident with a student will happen. Parents should keep in mind that school districts and bus drivers can be held liable for injuries to their children when getting on or exiting a school bus.