Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

School Buses Get a Real Going Over

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

School Buses Get a Real Going Over

Article excerpt

If you're one of those car owners who complains about taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule for emissions inspections, you should have been in Fair Lawn on Tuesday as teams of inspectors spent at least a half-hour conducting 180 safety checks on each of 29 school buses.

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, it turns out, considers the mechanical safety of the 24,000 yellow buses that carry kids to and from school -- about 900 students in Fair Lawn -- to be a much bigger priority than the 6 million other vehicles it registers statewide.

"Parents should take comfort when they say goodbye to their children in the morning that they're in safe hands," explained MVC Chief Administrator Raymond Martinez as he allowed reporters and cameras to record a typical inspection in the Bergen County borough that transports about one-sixth of its 5,200 students by bus.

There's good reason for focusing on school buses, said the MVC chief, because federal studies show that American students are 50 times safer riding them to and from school than if they drove themselves or rode with friends or relatives. An average of 24 school-age children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year -- 11 occupants of school vehicles and 13 pedestrians -- according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

School-bus deaths in New Jersey are exceptionally rare. One of the reasons is the MVC's semiannual mechanical inspection program, Martinez said. Nearly half all school buses flunk the first test, generally for minor defects like interior dome and footstep lighting. But most of them are corrected during the inspection, and more serious issues, like brake and steering problems, can sideline buses for 30 days or more, he added.

All but 5 percent make it through the second inspection.

"All this is in addition to routine inspections conducted by each school district and unannounced spot checks conducted jointly by the MVC and state police," Martinez said.

Should New Jersey be paying at least half as much attention to the mechanical well-being of the other privately owned vehicles that the MVC registers?

In an economy move, the Christie administration canceled routine safety inspections for privately owned vehicles in 2010. …

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