WTOC Investigates: School bus inspections in Georgia

WTOC Investigates: School bus inspections in Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - How do school systems make sure each bus gets a passing grade? It all comes down to inspections.

“I mean, the school bus is the safest mode of transportation. It’s safer than any vehicle they’re driving their kids to and from school in,” says Brett Martin, Effingham County Board of Education Transportation Coordinator.

More than 20,000 school buses in the state of Georgia will go through inspections before school starts in the fall. Locally, buses will go through multiple inspections.

“Every 20 days, every bus is inspected by the mechanics here at the bus shop, and once a year, the Department of Driver Services comes in and they do a full inspection on the buses,” said Martin.

In addition to a yearly state inspection and a monthly county inspection, during the school year, bus drivers also perform a daily safety check of multiple items.

“If there’s anything that’s unsatisfactory, it gets grounded until its fixed,” Martin said.

School bus inspections include reviewing elements on the outside of the bus like the lights and tires, the inside of the bus like the structure of the seats and emergency windows, and underneath the bus to make sure everything is working properly. There are two main categories of violations during a safety inspection: minor and critical.

“The most common minor is a light bulb of some sort whether it be a clip light, headlight, tail light. That’s probably the most minor thing,” Martin said.

Lt. Michael Hatcher with the Georgia Department of Public Safety says that’s not an end game.

If a minor issue is found, that doesn’t mean the bus is not safe to be operated. It can still be operated. It’s the major issues like brakes, bad tires, or a broken crossing gate that will cause a bus to be pulled from the fleet.

“It can be placed out of service on a critical item. It depends on if it meets certain criteria, and typically, those violations are corrected immediately,” Lt. Hatcher said.

Those critical violations will require a follow up bus inspection before being cleared for use. We asked what the most frequently found critical issue is while performing local inspections.

“It’s hard to pinpoint how often these violations occur, but like I said, the most common is the brake out of adjustment with the wear of the brakes,” Lt. Hatcher said.

Turns out, right now, the Georgia Department of Public Safety is in the process of transferring all of the inspection information to a relatively new electronic based comprehensive school bus maintenance tracking system. All 159 counties are expected to be on board by the 2020-2021 school year, which should make it easier to track buses that have repeat critical issues.

Right now, the Effingham County School System is in the process of reviewing all of its buses.

“Probably three weeks to go through all 165 buses to make sure they’re ready before we turn them over and allow drivers to come pick them up,” Martin said.

The maintenance department employees take their jobs seriously because it’s both professional and personal.

“Everybody here has children, and we try to look at it from those eyes. Would we feel safe with our child riding on that bus?”

The Georgia Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance also performs extra school bus safety checks on a smaller number of school buses throughout the year to make sure local school systems are in compliance.

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