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School busAll Fluvanna County school buses are now compliant with a safety standard that requires buses manufactured after a certain date to have an additional parking brake feature.

School buses with automatic transmissions do not have a park setting. In order to park, a bus driver puts the vehicle in neutral then engages the parking brake. But if the parking brake were to become accidentally disengaged – say, by someone tripping and falling against it – the bus could begin to roll.

“The issue was discovered when the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) transportation person was out in the field and was doing spot tests,” said Julie Grimes, VDOE communications manager.

A safety device called a brake interlock prevents this possibility. “On buses equipped with a brake interlock, it is not possible to release the parking brake without first depressing the brake pedal,” according to VDOE.

Only automatic transmission buses manufactured before March 24, 2011, lack this safety feature. Buses manufactured since that time come equipped with the brake interlock.

Gary Wagner, Fluvanna’s bus shop supervisor, said that 19 county school buses were not initially equipped with the brake interlock.

All but one of those buses, however, were retrofitted with the brake interlock in July. The last bus repair was held up by a manufacturer supply delay, but was completed Aug. 10. All Fluvanna buses are now compliant with the new safety standard.

“It was a pretty simple fix,” Wagner said. “It took about five minutes apiece.”

There were no issues with buses rolling before the fix took place, Wagner said. “None of the older buses have ever had that system in them whatsoever,” he said.

Grimes stressed that the fix came from an abundance of caution. Though all Fluvanna buses are now up to standard, she said, “not being retrofitted does not mean that the buses are not safe. The retrofitting makes the buses safer.”

Bus manufacturers paid for the fix, which came at no cost to Fluvanna, Wagner said.

“I’m very proud of the efforts of our mechanics and transportation staff to get our buses safely adjusted in an efficient manner,” said Superintendent Chuck Winkler.