Area school buses get state report cards

Area school buses get state report cards

SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - For new school bus drivers, there's a lot to learn.

This week, New Hanover County has been offering a new driver licensing course in an effort to try to recruit new bus drivers.

Between the intricacies of operating a CDL-level vehicle to managing the dozens of children on each bus, school bus drivers and supervisors have a lot to keep in mind.

They are also, however, supposed to be making sure their buses are running in tip-top shape.

State law requires all school buses to be inspected every 30 days. That means that between New Hanover, Brunswick, Columbus, Pender, and Bladen counties, that's more than 750 buses that need to be monitored and, if need be, repaired.

Each year, the Department of Public Instruction conducts a review of each county's bus system. DPI's Transportation Services department sends a representative to inspect a sample of buses for both operational and mechanical deficiencies. DPI randomly inspects a number of school buses roughly equal to 10 percent of the total fleet and looks at items, both large and small.

"Really, school buses are an extremely safe form of transportation, and they are that way because we set very high standards," said Kevin Harrison, section chief for DPI Transportation Services.

If an inspector finds a bus to be in critical condition, he or she will order the bus pulled from operation until it is fixed — just as the systems are supposed to be doing if they find problems during the 30-day inspections.

Buses can "fail" an inspection for several reasons, both for mechanical or safety reasons.

"It could be something related to the brake linings or pads needing to be replaced," Harrison said. "But it could also be a fire extinguisher not secured in the emergency equipment box."

Each deficiency has a number of points associated with it which are totaled for each bus. The inspector averages the scores of the sample of buses to create an overall county score. The lower the number, the better the score.

DPI also inspects a sample of each county's activity buses, which are held to the same standard as regular buses.

In addition to looking at the year-over-year change in scores, reports show where a school system ranks compared to the regional average.

Harrison said that the inspections aren't an attempt to penalize school districts, but are a way to remind them of what they need to be doing to keep buses in the best shape possible.

"It's really multiple tiers of inspections designed to one make everybody better, and to keep kids safe," he said.

Additionally, Harrison said he wanted to note that just because the scores may seem "bad," that doesn't mean kids aren't safe on their school bus. Scores can be influenced by the number of buses sampled as well as when the bus's last monthly inspection was.

What it does mean, he said, is that the drivers and mechanics are reminded to be constantly improving.

"We expect a lot," he said "and we do think that everybody can do better at their job."

Below are DPI's findings for counties in Southeastern North Carolina, as well as links to the full inspection reports for each county:

New Hanover County 

  • Dates Inspected: March 21-23
  • No. of Buses Inspected: 18
  • Overall Score: 41.89 (Regional Average: 44.01)
  • Buses pulled from service:
    • No. 332: Exhaust leak and cracked rear cross member
    • No. 374: Loose alternator
    • No. 603: Unsecured fire extinguisher
  • Activity Buses Inspected: 3
  • Activity Bus Score: 63.67

Brunswick County

  • Dates Inspected: May 7-9
  • No. of Buses Inspected: 15
  • Overall Score: 30.93 (Regional Average: 44.01)
  • Buses pulled from service:
    • No. 269: Seat foam damage
    • No. 287: Loose bolts on rear cross member
    • No. 339: Steering column not operating as designed
  • Activity Buses Inspected: 3
  • Activity Bus Score: 18.67

Columbus County

  • Dates Inspected: March 26-27
  • No. of Buses Inspected: 13
  • Overall Score: 43.15 (Regional Average: 37.61)
  • Buses pulled from service:
    • No. 36: Passenger seat bolt missing
    • No. 99: Rear door buzzer inoperative
    • No. 142: Excessive steering shimmying
    • No. 155: Passenger seat bolt missing and warning light out on stop sign
  • Activity Buses Inspected: 2
  • Activity Bus Score: 25.50

Pender County

  • Dates Inspected: April 3-4
  • No. of Buses Inspected: 10
  • Overall Score: 27.70 (Regional Average: 44.01)
  • Buses pulled from service: None
  • Activity Buses Inspected: 2
  • Activity Bus Score: 70

Bladen County

  • Dates Inspected: March 28
  • No. of Buses Inspected: 8
  • Overall Score: 48.75 (Regional Average: 37.61)
  • Buses pulled from service:
    • No. 164: Excessive brake stroke
    • No. 278: Inoperative turn signal
    • No. 303: Fire extinguisher not charged and passenger seat bolts missing nuts
  • Activity Buses Inspected: 1
  • Activity Bus Score: 10

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