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WCIA-3 Investigates: School bus safety

CHAMPAIGN -- Thousands of students across Central Illinois count on buses to get them to and from school. We wanted to see how our districts kept kids safe.
CHAMPAIGN -- Thousands of students across Central Illinois count on buses to get them to and from school. Districts take their buses to get checked out twice a year. And every so often, IDOT stops in for a surprise inspection. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera took a look at those reports from the past three years to see how schools are doing.

Before bus 109 hits the road for the morning commute, Sabrina Hulbert gives it a good once-over. With seven years of experience under her seat belt, the Champaign bus driver says safety comes first.

"I'm checking that they're all okay," said Hulbert.

But even a pre-trip inspection doesn't guarantee a smooth ride.

"You never know," said Champaign schools lead mechanic Gary Foley. "Say if you have a driver that calls in and says, 'I've got an alarm going off and it says brake pressure.' Well, immediately you're going to tell them, pull the bus over to a safe spot, and we'll get a bus out as quickly as we can."

Foley says regular maintenance helps keep working parts in check.

"There are moments when mishaps happen and I just want the community to know that we address everything quickly because we really care about kids," said Champaign schools transportation director Robin McClain.

The state requires set inspections every six months. And then, there are the unplanned ones.

"They're going to find something," said Foley. "That's their job of course."

IDOT workers make impromptu stops to garages around the state. Sometimes the visit stems from a complaint, but other times, it's random. Schools get cited for things like missing lettering, broken lights and worn out tire treads.

For each of the past three years, Decatur's First Student had the highest number of buses with defects; more than half the fleet each time. It also had the highest number of buses inspected each year. Representatives from First Student didn't want to participate in an interview.

Champaign buses got surprise inspections twice during that time. Each year, most of them passed. Mechanics say they were able to get some of the others fixed before the IDOT workers left the garage.

"All problems, it could be hundreds in a day between all three administrators," said Champaign schools assistant transportation director John Steinkamp. "As far as big problems, we try to keep those to a minimum."

They say that's why their drivers do what they do to keep the wheels rolling safely every day.

"Their parents are trusting us to make sure we get them to school and back home safe," said Hulbert.

McClain says this year they're keeping drivers in the same buses and on the same routes as last year. She says so far the consistency has helped, since they get more familiar with their rides and the roads they're driving on.

To see how other districts in our area stacked up, click on the attachment at the top of the story.

*** Indicates buses which had defects for multiple years.  
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