In light of two recent school bus tragedies, State Senator Mike Foley of Lincoln, Neb., is working tirelessly to ensure that the state’s school buses are operating with every possible safety precaution in place. To accomplish this, he plans to propose legislation allowing for more thorough school bus safety inspections. Foley discussed the significance of this issue with SBF PLUS.
SBF Plus: What made you decide that changes are needed in the state school bus inspection policy?
Foley: Here in Nebraska, we had a dual inspection process in which the local school district was the primary inspector and then the state patrol came in once a year and performed a reinspection. There was feeling among members of the legislature that this wasn’t a worthwhile use of the state patrol’s time and resources and that it should be focusing its energy on fighting crime. However, looking through research reports from the state patrol on buses that had already been inspected by local districts, I found that there were gross violations of safety rules such as emergency doors padlocked, bald tires, leaking exhaust systems, missing emergency kits, empty fire extinguishers, stop arms missing, lights that didn’t work, etc. These buses had passed local inspections and the state patrol was finding errors of this magnitude.
Despite my arguments, a bill was passed taking the state patrol out of the picture and leaving the inspections entirely up to the local school districts. We have hundreds of small school districts in Nebraska where the mechanic working on the brakes is the same guy who is inspecting them. That is not an independent inspection, that is a prescription for disaster.
SBF Plus: What kind of changes are you proposing?
Foley: We have had two very serious school bus accidents just this year in Nebraska, one of which involved loss of life. I think the schoolchildren in our state deserve better than this. We need to have an overhaul of the inspection process that will result in a true, independent inspection of each and every school bus before it gets put into service.
SBF Plus: What is your plan for making the necessary changes?
Foley: We are going back into legislative session this month, and it’s very likely that I will introduce a bill that will require the implementation of an independent inspection process. One thought is to have the districts pool together their resources and hire a third-party inspector to work on a cluster of school districts and then present a report to the state for review.
SBF Plus: What is the resistance to more efficient inspections and why does it exist?
Foley: The whole issue revolves around tight state budgets and using resources as efficiently as possible. The legislature felt that inspecting school buses was a low priority for the state patrol. I don’t think enough time was ever spent on looking at what would be left of the inspection program if you took the state patrol out of the reinspection process.