Inspectors find bad brakes, other dangers on NC school buses
Posted February 10, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — On any given day, nearly 1 out of 5 Wake County public school buses should not be on the road, according to state inspectors. But that’s not the worst rate among local school systems. In some nearby counties, inspectors determined that more than half of the buses they reviewed were not fit for the road.
The WRAL Investigates team reviewed the most recent inspection reports for 20 local school systems and found that bad brakes, leaking fuel lines and defective stop arms were just some of the problems state inspectors found on school buses.
The state parked 56 percent of inspected buses in Wayne County until repairs could be made, 50 percent in Halifax, 40 percent in Moore and 18 percent in Wake. (Scroll down to see a county-by-county map of school bus inspections.)
But the highest percentage resided with Granville County Schools, which had 72 percent of its buses taken off the road for safety problems. Seven of Granville’s 11 buses had more than 100 defect points for things such as failed brake tests, fuel, oil and exhaust leaks and low tread on tires.
“(I’m) pretty disgusted,” said parent Kellie Hicks, whose 6-year-old daughter Angelina rides bus 176.
That bus – 176 – hauls students to and from Butner-Stem Elementary School every day and had the worst state inspection score in the area with 218 defect points. The average score in the eastern part of the state is closer to 40 points.
Among the biggest problems with bus 176 is that it failed two different brake inspections and had a leaking fuel line. After that bad safety report, Granville County Schools’ spokesman Stan Winborne says the school system made repairs and pushed buses up the priority list by adding maintenance technicians and increasing their training.
“We were shocked, extremely disappointed, very concerned … We felt it was absolutely unacceptable,” Winborne said. “We’re not going to be satisfied until our buses are 100 percent clean.”
North Carolina has one of the more rigorous school bus inspection processes in the nation. The state randomly inspects 10 percent of buses in each school system every year, and counties are responsible for looking at buses at least every 30 days.
Derek Graham leads the statewide school bus inspection program for the Department of Public Instruction. North Carolina's detailed maintenance requirements help make it a national leader in bus safety. While the state conducts annual inspections, it ultimately counts on local schools to keep buses safe.
“Somebody (in Granville County) hasn’t been paying attention, because you don’t accumulate that many defect points in that short amount of time,” Graham said. “I am concerned if the situation goes on like it has.”
Granville County has not reported any accidents related to the maintenance issues, and state inspectors say they don’t believe students are in imminent danger. But Winborne says the school system will do better and has asked the state to do surprise re-inspections.
“There's no excuse for it, and like I said, we feel like we've taken measures so that that won't happen again,” he said. “It's a difficult job, but it's one we can't compromise on because we're talking about the safety of our children.”
Despite safety inspections, accidents do happen. About 18 months ago, Wake County students were burned by steam after a belt broke on a bus.
"Our students' safety is of paramount importance, which is why our own mechanics routinely and thoroughly inspect every bus in the fleet," a Wake County public schools' spokeswoman said in a statement. "Any bus with an issue is parked until it is repaired. With 100,000 miles of stop-and-go driving daily, wear-and-tear is inevitable. We go the extra mile to keep the buses repaired and running."
In Charlotte, a school bus went up in flames because of an electrical fire. No students were hurt in that case, but it prompted state inspectors to send out a warning to all school systems about potential wiring problems.
Parents like Hicks say they remain skeptical, especially after a recent incident when bus 176 had to do a U-turn to let off her daughter because the stop arm wasn't working.
“I don’t think I want to ever wake up or be called from work, saying there’s been an accident because of failures on the bus,” Hicks said.