Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law Signed by Governor Brown - Tragic Death of Whittier Student Inspired Bill

September 28, 2016

Sacramento – Today, at a Whittier press conference, Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) and the parents of Hun Joon “Paul” Lee announced that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law” (SB 1072).

SB 1072, named after a Whittier student who tragically passed away last year after being left unattended on school bus for many hours, would require school buses in California to be equipped with child-safety alarm systems. It would also require bus drivers, upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate, to receive training in child-safety check procedures. The new law will go into effect beginning with the 2018–19 school year.

“I thank Governor Brown for signing SB 1072. The Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law will protect every child who rides a school bus to and from school every day,” said Senator Tony Mendoza.

“SB 1072 will prevent future tragedies by requiring every school bus in the state to be equipped with a child-safety alarm system. No parent should fear that their child will not return home safely at the end of the day,” added Senator Mendoza.

"We are grateful today for Governor Brown's recognition that school bus safety is a vital issue and we thank him for signing SB 1072 to protect the most vulnerable of our students," said Eun Ha Lee on behalf of the Lee family.

"Although we tragically lost our son Paul last year after he was left behind on a school bus for 7-hours, we know that the signing of this bill is a warm hug from heaven that will enable all children who ride a school bus to arrive at their destination safely. Thank you Senator Mendoza for creating the "Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law" and for your tireless efforts in advocating for families who entrust school districts and bus companies with the safe transportation of their children," added Eun Ha Lee, Paul’s Mother.

“The State Council on Developmental Disabilities was honored to sponsor SB 1072, and we applaud Senator Mendoza for all of his good work in getting this legislation passed.  By signing this bill, Governor Brown has made California a safer place for kids riding school buses,” said Dr. April Lopez, Chair of the Council.

A school bus child-safety alarm system generates an audible sound when the ignition of the vehicle is turned off. This alarm requires the bus driver to walk to the rear of the vehicle to silence the alarm, thereby detecting any remaining children or passengers on the school bus. Some states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin, already require school buses and childcare vehicles over a certain passenger size to be equipped with child-safety alarms.

“California has now joined other states that require child-safety alarm systems on school buses. The many thousands of children transported daily to and from school will now be protected,” said Senator Tony Mendoza.

“My hope is that Governor Brown’s signature provides some measure of consolation and closure for Paul’s family. I thank the Lee Family for their courage and fortitude during this process despite their heart-wrenching sadness. The tragic loss of their son has helped bring about meaningful change that will forever safeguard every child in California who rides a bus to and from school every day. Although we cannot give the Lees their beloved brother and son back, we can honor his memory and find solace in the fact that his passing will ensure that so many others will live,” added Mendoza.

Current law requires public and private school districts to create and follow a transportation safety plan containing procedures for school personnel to follow to ensure the safe transportation of pupils. The plans must include specific procedures on boarding and exiting a school bus at each pupil’s bus stop and at the final trip destination.

Additionally, to operate a school bus, a driver is required to obtain a California Special Driver Certificate from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which entails classroom instruction, special training, and testing. Annual renewal of the certificate is required and involves 10 hours of renewal classroom instruction, or behind-the-wheel or in-service training.

During the last several years in California, there have been several cases where children were left on school buses unattended and found hours later.

Specifically, the new law required by SB 1072 will:

  • Require all school buses to be equipped with an operational child-safety alarm system that prompts the driver to inspect all seats before leaving the bus. The system must be approved by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and hard-wired into the vehicle’s electrical system and activated when the ignition is turned on.
  • Require drivers, upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate, to receive training in child-safety check procedures.
  • Add a reporting requirement to ensure that the Department of Motor Vehicles is notified of cases when a child is left on a bus unattended.
  • Direct the CHP to promulgate rules to implement the new requirements and provide a list of child-safety alarms that are approved for use in school buses and a qualified technician or mechanic that can install the system.
  • Grant school districts and school bus contractors a grace period of eight months after the date that the CHP issues the rules to install a child-safety alarm system.

Senator Tony Mendoza, a Los Angeles native and former elementary school teacher in East Los Angeles, represents the 32nd Senate District encompassing portions of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. For more information about Senator Mendoza visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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