Road Ready: THP completes inspections on county school buses

Published 8:24 am Tuesday, August 7, 2018

As county school system officials prepare to welcome students back to class next week, a state official spent Monday working to ensure those students have a safe ride to and from school.

Under state law, school buses must undergo routine inspections to remain in operation. On Monday morning, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Robert Wills was at the Carter County School System’s bus garage inspecting the system’s fleet of student transport vehicles.

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“The biggest thing we focus on is the safety aspect,” Wills said.

Wills begins his inspection outside the bus by having the driver activate all of the lights, stop sign, crossing arm, backup alarm, horn, and windshield wipers. Once he can see those safety features are working, Wills begins his search beneath the bus.

Using a mechanic’s creeper, Wills slides underneath the bus to check the breaks and steering system. As he travels underneath the bus from one end to the other, Wills is also looking for structural problems, such as rust, that could make the bus unsafe or lead to more significant problems in the future.

Wills also looks at the body of the bus to check for structural deficiencies such as waves in the metal or rivets that have been shorn off.

Once the outside inspection is completed, Wills moves inside the bus.

Wills checks all of the emergency exit windows and hatches to ensure not only are they in working order but that the alarms, which alert the driver the exit has been opened, are functioning correctly.

As the Trooper moves through the bus, he squeezes and shakes each seat to make sure the padding is in place, and the seats are securely mounted to the floor. With each step, he checks for weak spots in the floors.

If a bus is equipped with seatbelts, Wills checks each one for tears or cuts to the fabric that could compromise the safety of the belt.

Any issue that is found with a bus during the inspection, such as a damaged seatbelt, must be repaired or replaced before the bus can pass inspection and be used to transport students.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” Wills said.

Wills serves as the official inspector for school systems in five counties — Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Washington, and Sullivan.

“There are about 700 buses I look at each year,” he said.

During Monday’s inspection, Wills praised the work of the Carter County Bus Garage staff in maintaining the system’s fleet of buses and keeping them in safe operating condition.

“These guys do a phenomenal job, and they work hard,” Wills said. “People don’t realize how hard they work keeping these things up. They have a fleet of about 90 they have to keep up.”