“For many years the people of this city have been fighting a problem in North Hudson that is pervasive in our life,” said North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco. “And it was the omnibus situation.”
He was speaking on Jan. 30 at a commemoration ceremony at North Bergen Township Hall for the newly-enacted “Angelie’s Law.” Angelie Paredes was the 8-month-old infant tragically killed in West New York last year when an autobus or “jitney” jumped the curb on Boulevard East and hit a light pole, knocking it over onto her stroller. The driver of the autobus was allegedly using his cell phone at the time of the accident.
The law is designed to regulate the autobuses run by small companies, common throughout Hudson County. Previously operating with limited oversight, the autobuses or “jitneys” will face stiffer requirements and increased penalties and fines for violations.
Angelie’s tearful parents sat to one side during the presentation as many of Hudson County’s highest officials expressed their condolences and thanked the couple for keeping up the fight for stronger autobus oversight. At the end of the ceremony a framed copy of “Angelie’s Law” was presented to them in commemoration.
Mayor Felix Roque of West New York, where the fatal accident occurred, told Angelie’s parents that he intends to erect a monument in honor of their “little angel.”
Long time coming
Sacco said the autobus problem was a pervasive one that had been discussed for years but was difficult to address in the past. “Everything that was done failed because they were listed as federally registered buses and we have no authority over them,” he said.
New Jersey State Assemblyman Vincent Prieto was among numerous other speakers at the event. “For many years in the Assembly and the senate we have been trying to work to make a level playing field, that these commuter buses would actually have to follow what regular buses and NJ transit do,” he said.
“Angelie’s Law is something that now will prevent things like this from happening again.” --Vincent Prieto
“It’s so sad that it took the death of a young, young girl to make people wake up and see how bad the situation has become,” said Sacco.
“Angelie’s Law is something that now will prevent things like this from happening again,” added Prieto.
Sacco described some of the provisions of the new law. “The bill that we have come up with recognizes the federal nature but puts penalties on the owners that didn’t exist,” he said. “For example, the driver must be CDL licensed.”
CDL stands for Commercial Driver License, which is required in order to be a truck driver or bus driver. According to the State of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission web site, “driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than that required to drive a non-commercial vehicle. In order to obtain a Commercial Driver's License (CDL), an applicant must pass both skills and knowledge testing geared to these higher standards. Additionally CDL holders are held to a higher standard when operating any type of motor vehicle on public roads.”
“They must have background checks,” said Sacco. “They must be fingerprinted. And rather than go after drivers who are not (licensed), we’re going after (bus company) owners in this bill. The owners will pay $1,500 to $5,000 fines for every infraction.”
The bill also calls for a “bill of rights” for passengers, and requires the buses to display a phone number that people can call with any issues or concerns such as overcrowding, dangerous driving, texting, or talking on the phone.
“We’re increasing the fines,” said Sacco. “We’re making it mandatory on any serious accident that the driver has to receive a blood test.” He also said the buses would be required to “comply with all federal regulations. For example, they’re (currently) carrying $100,000 worth of insurance when they should, under federal regulations, have $1.5 million worth of insurance.”
Two sections of the bill are effective immediately, according to Sacco: “making the owners responsible for CDL licenses and the fines, and the blood test for serious accidents.” However, other parts will be phased in over time.
“Everything else in the bill, the bill of rights part, will be done in a year,” said Sacco. “They will have one year to comply with all the regulations. However, law enforcement can stop buses as they have in the past if they see anything unsafe or overcrowded.”
“We are able now to let the bus companies step up to the plate and police their own operations, police their drivers,” said Sheriff Frank Schillari. “I applaud the whole legislative body for giving the law enforcement community the tools to work with to better protect all the people of Hudson County and the state of New Jersey.”
Other speakers at the event included Assemblyman Charles Mainor, Assemblywoman Angelica Jiminez, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.