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Department of Education tells schools to retrofit thousands of buses

From Virginia Department of Education

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Education last week notified the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions that as many as 4,000 school buses may need retrofitting to install a safety device that prevents the parking brake from accidently disengaging.

The device — a brake interlock — is required in Virginia on all buses with automatic transmissions purchased after March 24, 2011, when the mechanism was added to the state Board of Education’s minimum specifications for school buses. On buses equipped with a brake interlock, it is not possible to release the parking brake without first depressing the brake pedal.

Unlike most passenger vehicles with automatic transmissions, school bus transmissions do not have a “park” setting. 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 accidentally disengage — for example, if a student were to slip and inadvertently fall against the brake valve.

School divisions were alerted to the issue earlier this month after VDOE 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.

“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 said.

School divisions report annually on 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 because of an accidentally disengaged parking brake.

VDOE is surveying school divisions to identify all school buses in need of retrofitting. 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. The retrofitting can be done in about 90 minutes by factory or dealer technicians at division pupil transportation facilities.

In addition, VDOE 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.

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