27 Investigates: School bus inspections force buses out of service

27 Investigates Ohio bus inspections

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — When WKBN learned about school buses taken out of service, we wanted to see for ourselves how school bus inspections work. WKBN set up an Ohio State Highway Patrol bus inspection to see the ins and outs.

Sharon Papineau has been inspecting buses for Ohio State Highway Patrol for less than two years. And she has already looked at hundreds of buses.

“We all have an important job, and it’s the safety of our kids,” Papineau said. “And it’s not just us, we kind of check each other.”

Papineau works with a team to inspect every inch of every school bus — twice a year, in what are known as “annual” and “spot” inspections. Schools are notified of the date and time for annual inspections, while the spot inspections are a surprise.

Inspectors are looking for anything that could take the bus out of service.

“Even if it’s a minor violation, it turns into an out-of-service violation during our annual inspections,” Papineau said. “So that will preclude it from getting an annual sticker if there’s anything that’s not fixed.”

So even if one item does not live up to the standard set by the Ohio State Highway Patrol bus inspection manual, the bus could be taken out of service.

27 Investigates requested the results of the last two years of inspections for districts in Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull Counties. Our analysis showed the districts with the highest percentage of out-of-service violations were Lisbon, Wellsville, Warren and Mathews.

10 Highest Out-of-Service Violation Rates (2014-15)

  • Lisbon (75.0% of inspections)
  • Wellsville (72.7%)
  • Warren (67.1%)
  • Mathews (62.5%)
  • Struthers (61.5%)
  • Southern (61.3%)
  • Newton Falls (61.1%)
  • LaBrae (58.8%)
  • East Palestine (57.1%)
  • Leetonia (56.3%)

    AVERAGE: 50.1%

Overall, State Highway Patrol gave one out of every two buses in the area an out-of-service violation. Examples?

“Holes in the seatbacks. Graffiti,” said Papineau. “Sometimes a tire tread isn’t in compliance with our standards. Sometimes you’ll get a tire that doesn’t have enough air in it.”

Superintendents from Lisbon and Wellsville pointed out that most of the violations were not related to the safety of the buses. And in almost all cases, the problems were fixed immediately. And buses were back on the roads.

“A significant portion of the violations found by the Ohio State Patrol were minor violations,” said Lisbon superintendent Joe Siefke. “Two of our tires, both legally safe to transport students with above 4/32” tread, had mismatched tread depths.. different spray patterns for windshield washer fluid, properly functioning floor heaters that needed ‘Not a Seat’ stickers.

“These violations were fixed the same day as inspection, but were still listed on our results as being out of service.”

But the State Highway Patrol says local schools are not replacing buses as often as they used to.

“That’s the problem that schools are facing is a money issue, of replacing these buses,” said Sgt. Alan Ogden of Ohio State Highway Patrol. “They’re forced to keep older buses in their fleet, which causes a lot more problems with mechanical issues.”

The bus the inspectors showed us was a newer bus — 2012 — at Jackson-Milton High School. Many in the area are much older.  And Sgt. Ogden says there is a reason they look at every detail.

“Our teams have the responsibility of inspecting these school buses to ensure they’re safe,” said Sgt. Ogden. “Because they’re transporting our most precious commodity — And that’s our kids.”

UPDATE: A previous version of this story listed Howland Local Schools as having a 61.1% out-of-service rate. This was in error, due to a typo in data entry. Howland has actually had a 53.7% out-of-service rate. WKBN apologizes for the error.

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