62 buses to be fixed

Published 8:19 pm Monday, June 5, 2017

More than 60 Suffolk Public Schools buses are affected by a compliance issue identified recently by the Virginia Department of Education.

The department notified school divisions across Virginia in May that as many as 4,000 buses may need retrofitting to install a safety device that prevents the parking brake from accidentally disengaging, according to a news release.

The device, a brake interlock, is required in Virginia on all buses with automatic transmissions purchased after March 24, 2011. That’s when the mechanism was added to the state Board of Education’s minimum specifications for school buses.

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On buses equipped with a brake interlock, it is not possible to release the parking brake without first pressing the brake pedal, according to the news release.

Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said 62 buses are affected, but that current practice prevents the bus from rolling. The division is communicating with vendors about how they will fix the issue, she stated.

Unlike most passenger vehicles with automatic transmissions, school bus transmissions do not have a “park” setting, according to the release. After stopping the bus, the driver places the bus in neutral and then pulls the parking brake valve on the dashboard. Without the interlock, the parking brake could accidently disengage — for example, if a student were to slip and inadvertently fall against the brake valve.

School divisions were alerted to the issue in May after the Virginia Department of Education tested individual buses purchased from the leading manufacturers after March 2011 and found that none of the vehicles was 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 specification was approved by the state board.

Dealers and manufacturers have been directed to submit plans to the department detailing the steps that will be taken to install brake interlocks on all non-compliant buses at no expense to school divisions.

In addition, the Virginia Department of Education is asking all school bus manufacturers doing business in the commonwealth to make sure that interlock devices have been installed and are working as specified on all new buses delivered to Virginia school divisions.

“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,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples stated in the press release.

The Virginia Department of Education is not aware of any incidents resulting in injuries because of the deficiency, according to the press release.