Hundreds of local school buses affected by statewide compliance issue

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Last week, the Virginia Department of Education notified the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions that roughly 4,000 school buses may need retrofitting to install a safety device that prevents the parking brake from accidentally disengaging.

8News has discovered that hundreds of local schools are impacted, too.

Unlike most passenger vehicles with automatic transmissions, school bus transmissions do not have a setting for parking. After stopping the bus, drivers must place it into neutral and then pull the parking brake valve on the dashboard. Without the interlock, the parking brake could accidentally disengage. For example, a student could trip and fall against the brake valve.

School divisions were alerted of the issue earlier this month after VDOE tested buses purchased from the leading manufacturers after March 2011, and found that none of them were equipped with the required parking brake interlock. Dealers provided the department with estimates on the number of noncompliant buses sold to school divisions since the interlock was approved by the state board.

“The safety of students is the department’s highest priority,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction, Steven R. Staples. “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.”

School officials in Richmond say that 99 buses are impacted by the issue.

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.” — RPS spokesperson

In Henrico County, officials say 176 buses were purchased since March of 2011.

This summer, we expect the manufacturers to retrofit those buses at no cost to the school division. — HCPS spokesperson

More than 200 buses were impacted in Chesterfield County.

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. — CCPS spokesperson

Hanover County school officials have identified 49 buses affected by the issue.

We are working closely with manufacturers to retrofit the impacted buses and will follow any additional guidance provided by the VDOE. — HCPS

School divisions annually report school bus accidents to VDOE’s Office of Support Services. The office is not aware of an incident in which a student or other person was injured by a school bus that inadvertently rolled as a result of a disengaged parking brake.

VDOE is surveying school divisions to identify the buses that need to be retrofitted. Dealers and manufacturers have been instructed to submit plans to the department that will outline the steps that will be taken to install brake interlocks at no expense to school divisions.

The retrofitting can be completed in about 90 minutes by factory or dealer technicians at division pupil transportation facilities. VDOE is also asking that all school bus manufacturers doing business in the commonwealth ascertain that the interlocks have been installed and are working as specified on all new buses that are delivered to Virginian school divisions.

Video Credit: Virginia Department of Transportation

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