Thousands of school buses in VA in need of safety device

Published: May. 22, 2017 at 4:47 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2017 at 1:01 PM EDT
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(WWBT) - The Virginia Department of Education says as many as 4,000 school buses may need retrofitting to install a safety device that prevents the parking brake from accidentally disengaging.

The device -- a brake interlock -- is required on all buses in Virginia that have automatic transmissions. The mechanism was added to the state Board of Education's minimum specifications for school buses in March 2011. 

"The safety of students is the department's highest priority and the department will work with school divisions, manufacturers and school bus dealers to make sure that all non-compliant buses are brought into full compliance with the state Board of Education's equipment specifications as quickly as possible," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples in a news release.

The three leading manufacturers of Virginia school buses are IC Bus, Blue Bird, and Thomas. VDOE says it became aware of the issue last month while VDOE transportation staff was conducting routine bus reviews. State officials added that this is not something that would have been seen or detected during normal school bus inspections by either school bus drivers or division transportation mechanics.

The VDOE says school bus transmissions do not have a "park" setting.

"After stopping the bus, the driver places the bus in neutral, and then pulls the parking brake valve on the dashboard," VDOE said in a news release. "Without the interlock, the parking brake could accidentally disengage — for example, if a student were to slip and inadvertently fall against the brake valve."

Thomas released the following statement:

Thomas Built Buses was recently made aware of this issue by Sonny Merryman, Inc., the Thomas dealer.  All three OEMs selling large buses into the Commonwealth of Virginia are experiencing the same issue on buses built after February of 2011 when the specification was enacted.  This issue does not impact the operation of the vehicle.  Sonny Merryman, Inc. and Thomas Built Buses are working to ensure all buses in question are in compliance with the Commonwealth’s requirement.

Richmond Public Schools have about 99 buses that are impacted:

We have about 99 buses that are impacted by this. Our transportation department is already working with the manufacturers to get this resolved as quickly as possible and a safety plan is being finalized in the interim. Once the plan is finalized, information will be shared with parents.

Henrico says they have 176 buses are impacted:

We have 176 buses that were purchased since March of 2011. This summer, we expect the manufacturers to retrofit those buses at no cost to the school division.

Petersburg says 16 buses are impacted:

Petersburg City Public Schools has 16 buses affected by this statewide situation and a message is scheduled to go out to parents tonight.

Chesterfield says 220 buses are impacted:

Our Transportation Department was notified 10 days ago and has determined that approximately 220 buses in our fleet are impacted. Since then, we have been working to develop a plan to retrofit the buses.

Hanover says 49 buses are impacted:

We have identified forty-nine buses that are affected by this issue.  We are working closely with manufacturers to retrofit the impacted buses and will follow any additional guidance provided by the VDOE.

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