By ALEXANDER SMITH
Capital News Service
LANSING — A recent state audit says state officials should more aggressively re-inspect school buses that fail safety checks.
The number of buses with safety defects rose by 684 to 3,038 in 2016. That’s 19 percent of Michigan’s fleet, according to the 2016 School Bus Inspection Report.
According to a September state audit report of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, inspectors rarely reevaluated a bus tagged as defective. In 2016, only 30 percent of tagged buses were reevaluated by inspectors, the audit reported.
The other 70 percent were repaired and self-certified by the owners without a follow-up state inspection. If a repair was subpar, the state would not know.
The audit called for limiting the number of buses per district that can be self-certified.
Any problems cause a bus to be tagged. Yellow tags are minor, but red tags won’t allow a bus to be used until the problem is fixed.
“Common violations we see are ABS lights, brakes, fuel system, exhaust problems,” said Sgt. Mike McLaughlin of the State Police’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division based in Okemos. “Rust is always a problem too.”
Red tags used to be a big problem for brand-new buses, said Scott Van Ingen, service manager at Holland Bus Co. in Holland.
“For a while there, anything they found on a new bus delivery was a red tag. They didn’t issue yellow tags at all to new bus dealers, so basically a red tag would make a mountain out of a molehill,” Van Ingen said.
Even small violations like a misadjusted seat could warrant a red tag. Excessive red tags for dealers were curbed in 2013 after a new inspection manual was issued.
Still, the total number of red tags jumped 4 percent in 2016.
State Police said the increase could be due to improving the inspection program. In previous years an insufficient number of inspectors and an antiquated documentation system caused low re-inspection rates.
Part of the rise in 2016 may be due to better documentation, McLaughlin said. The old documentation system was not efficient. With a new one in place, the numbers should be more accurate than ever.
“Two years ago we switched to an electronic system,” he said. “Because we’re getting much better documentation than what we did with the old paper system, I think we might be in a correction period.”
The rising rate of failed inspections doesn’t necessarily mean buses are falling apart any faster, McLaughlin said. A higher failure rate may just be the new norm now that the division can easily compile and keep track of more reports.
“It’ll take a couple years of data to know for sure, but that could very well be the case,” he said.
The rate may continue to rise if the state increases follow-up inspections and catches more problems. The division agreed to formalize a risk-based repair certification process to address the low re-inspection rate, according to the audit
By ALEXANDER SMITH