Some local school buses to receive safety upgrade

Area school divisions will need to install a safety device, called a brake interlock, on some of their school buses to prevent the parking brake from accidentally disengaging.

The Virginia Department of Education notified the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions that as many as 4,000 buses many need the brake interlock, which 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, according to a  news release.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston said his division has 22 buses that need  the brake interlock installed.  He said there will be no expense to the districts because the bus manufacturers will pay for the installation.

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher said there are four buses that need the upgrade and parts have already been ordered. The division was also told by the state that the buses can remain in use until the upgrade is completed.

Steve Edwards, coordinator of Policy and Communications for Frederick County Public Schools,  said they also have buses that will need the upgrade, but are unsure of the number until the maintenance department has finished assessing all buses.

The release stated that a school bus does not have a park setting. After the bus stops, the driver places the bus in neutral and pulls the parking brake valve on the dashboard. Without the brake interlock, the parking brake could accidentally disengage. School divisions were alerted to the problem earlier this month after the state Department of Education tested individual buses purchased form the leading manufacturers after March 2011 and found that none of the vehicles were equipped with the required brake interlock.

School divisions report school bus accidents to the state Department of Education’s Office of Support Services, the release added.

“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,” it added.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com