School bus inspection process changing after audit

BISMARCK, N.D. - There are changes to the way school bus inspections are being carried out across the state. The Highway Patrol and Department of Public Instruction are working together on a program called STARS, the State Automated Reporting System.

The Highway Patrol, DPI and school districts are working together to make sure the vehicles carrying students, are as safe as possible.

Each morning, Doug, a bus driver for Bismarck Public Schools, does a walk around inspection of his vehicle before heading out.

“We haul the most important cargo that Bismarck Public Schools has, and that's our kids,” said Transportation Coordinator Jason Schafer.

Schafer says it's required of all drivers each day. If something is wrong, another bus is subbed in, and the shop supervisor and three full time mechanics take over.

“We would never put a bus that's compromised in any way out on the road, we'd pull that out of service until it's fixed,” said Schafer.

That staff also does a yearly inspection of all the buses, based on federal guidelines and the driver vehicle inspection report.

“We have the exact form that the state goes over, our shop foreman and our mechanics they go through that exact same list in the month of June,” said Schafer.

Some districts don't have qualified inspectors though, and that's where the Highway Patrol comes in. The Department of Public Instruction asks schools to have each bus inspected at least annually. If they can't do it themselves, they can request an inspection, which is done by troopers in that region.

“There's a lot of standards with school buses that we're already familiar with because a lot of them are similar to the commercial motor vehicle side,” said Wade Kadrmas, safety and education officer with the Highway Patrol.

The Highway Patrol and DPI have been working on implementing the State Automated Reporting System, or STARS this year. Kadrmas says an audit this summer saying the Highway Patrol didn't perform proper inspections, helped to move the system forward, to make sure the inspections are being done the right way.

“Are the districts requesting the inspections, are they keeping up with it, if they find out of service criteria are they making sure that it's corrected before the bus gets put back in service, those are the things we're going to have visibility of,” said Don Williams, safety and education officer with DPI.

Right now, they're working to determine which schools do have their own system in place, and helping districts understand what a qualified inspector is.

Kadrmas says all drivers should be doing what Doug does, walking around the bus each day. He says that will help find a lot of the defects that troopers will see.

The STARS report is due to DPI next June, after the school year is over.

Kadrmas says the vast majority of districts requesting inspections from the highway patrol are rural, and this new system will make it easier for them to track which buses have and haven't been inspected.