Inspectors flag local school buses

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:44 AM

Between Sept. 1 and Aug. 31 the following year, Michigan school buses undergo inspections making sure they are safe. While previous inspections haven’t found major problems with local school buses, this year’s report found a few errors.

Last year, the program inspected about 16,911 buses — with 105 of them from local school districts.

Grand Haven Area Public Schools had 29 buses pass the inspections. One bus received a yellow tag while 26 received red tags.

Spring Lake Public Schools had 14 buses pass and nine that received red tags.

Fruitport Community Schools had 26 of their buses pass inspections, with no yellow or red tags.

Although things can happen to buses between inspections, Lt. Steve Horwood, state support section commander for the Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division, said the inspection provides a good indication of the condition of a school bus.

“It’s a snapshot in time,” he said.

Inspectors check for a variety of things, including body and sheet metal, brake system, chassis, emergency exits and aisles.

Once inspectors finish the bus exam, they either pass it or give it a yellow or red tag. Buses receiving a “passing” grade were found to be in satisfactory condition.

A yellow tag indicates the buses are in unsatisfactory condition, but are safe to operate. The school district has 60 days to correct the errors.

Buses with a red tag cannot transport students until repairs are made, and must undergo another inspection. Schools can complete the re-inspection themselves, Horwood said.

“A red tag may be something serious or simple as a hole in floor,” he said.

Although all inspectors complete the same checklist, they don’t all interpret it the same way, said Rod Jonas, director of transportation for Grand Haven Area Public Schools.

A few of the items tagged in Grand Haven buses were a cracked sun visor, five AM/FM radio speakers noted as being too close to the driver and windshield wipers moving too slow. Jonas said the changes were made during the summer, and the buses were ready for the start of this school year. He estimated it took about $2,000 to correct the errors.

“(It was) never for something that was unsafe,” Jonas said.

Before the district’s drivers leave to pick up students, they complete a daily pre-trip checklist requiring them to check items such driving signals/hazard lights, yellow/red flashing lights, stop arm, gauges, seat and fuel. If there’s a problem, Jonas said the driver makes a note and informs a mechanic.

Bus drivers for Fruitport Community Schools also check their buses anytime they’ve sat for two or more hours, said the district’s transportation director, Becki Shackles.

“We want to make sure the buses are safe for the kids, and the equipment is operating regularly,” she said.

Linda Evans, transportation director for Spring Lake Public Schools, e-mailed a statement to say they take pride in their fleet.

“Upon our inspection, we experienced some violations — none that compromised the safety of students,” the statement read. “As with many written laws, there are some items that are a matter of interpretation between the inspector and the mechanic. Regardless of any interpretation, the inspector always has the final word, which we respect and give 100 percent compliance to."

While they strive for consistency, Horwood said newer inspectors might go by the book more than those who have been inspecting for a while.

Although some buses required fixing minor errors, Horwood said he’s happy with the program, schools and transportation directors throughout the state.

“A school bus is the safest vehicle on the roadway,” he said.

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