A Nevada Highway Patrol program that inspects the state’s school buses for safety is overlooking dozens of vehicles that don’t fall under the traditional definition of a bus, according to state auditors.
The audit released earlier this month said about 2,500 regular school buses get twice-yearly inspections, but about 155 vans and small buses used to transport students to school and school activities aren’t included in the rotation.
“Failure to inspect other vehicles used to transport pupils can increase the risk of injury,” auditors wrote.
Issues such as broken mirrors, defective brakes and loose seats can put a bus out of service. So can broken wheelchair lifts or horns and fuel leaks.
Officials with the highway patrol said the inspection gap came because of a discrepancy in the definition of a school bus. Nevada Department of Education bus standards identify four types of vehicles that carry more than 10 passengers, while state law defines a bus more broadly as any vehicle owned by a government agency or a private school and regularly used to take students to school or related activities.
Nevada Highway Patrol Chief Dennis Osborn told lawmakers on a legislative subcommittee that his agency agrees with auditors that smaller vehicles fall under its purview, but long thought the intent of the law was just to handle traditional buses.
“We never even really realized the potential of the vans and sedans that are used to transport pupils,” Osborn said. “That was a surprise to us.”
The agency said it’s now revising its policy so all vehicles used for moving students are inspected twice a year. But Osborn also noted the highway patrol would need to hire two additional inspectors to meet the demand, which it calculates is even higher than auditors estimated and could entail 534 vans and smaller vehicles in Clark County alone.
Osborn said the highway patrol may also request a bill in the 2017 legislative session to clarify whether the agency should be inspecting smaller vehicles, or whether that should be left to staff at the district level.
Auditors identified several other concerns with the highway patrol’s school bus inspection program, including that the results of the evaluations aren’t reported to school district superintendents as required by state law. A superintendent is guilty of a misdemeanor if they don’t address a school bus defect within 10 days.
“Although the inspection report is provided to the school bus yard mechanic, the inspection results are not reported to the school district superintendent,” auditors wrote. “In the past, NHP reported inspection results and the agency did not know when this practice stopped.”
And auditors say holes in the inspection policies open the door for cheating. Currently, mechanics at a school bus yard give inspectors a list of vehicles they need to look over.
That should be done by a neutral third party, auditors said, to ensure certain buses aren’t intentionally excluded from the inspection lineup.