Unsafe School Buses in Atlanta

Last week the Chicago Tribune reported that as many as 2,000 unsafe school buses are still transporting students, even though the bus manufacturer and government safety regulators have known about recalled parts for as long as eight years. According to the Tribune, it has taken officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) eight years to find the company responsible for the recalled, which are found in small school buses across the country. These smaller buses are often used to transport disabled students.

NHTSA records show that some of the safety problems associated with recalled parts include seat backs that do not meet strength requirements, seat belt anchors that can become detached, and defective wheelchair lifts.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing! These are incredibly significant problems,” said Joan Claybrook, former president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

NHTSA says that so far no injuries have been linked to the defective parts. However, the NHTSA is not sure where all of the affected buses are located. Transportation Collaborative Inc. (TCI) has agreed to notify its customers that the small buses have parts that have been recalled. TCI representatives claim that another company, U.S. Bus Inc., is at fault for manufacturing the faulty parts However, NHTSA officials say that TCI and U.S. Bus are essentially the same company with different names. As part of its agreement with NHTSA, TCI has until November 23 to alert customer companies about the recalled parts, and they have until September 2010 to complete repairs. TCI must also pay a $20,000 fine.

“It’s less than a slap on the wrist,” said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, who is worried that this case will make other bus companies think that they can stall on issuing recalls.

TCI has not released a list of affected buses - but the Tribune reports that some of them are in Atlanta, owned by Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers. This Atlanta school owns five of the buses and uses them to transport children ages 4 and under. Officials at the school said they never heard about the recalls. Paige McKay Kubik of the education centers said, “We would have responded immediately.”

Since 2001, U.S. Bus has notified NHTSA about 22 recalls. The company was supposed to notify customers and fix the recalled buses in a reasonable time, but it appears that they never did. Normally, recalls take about a year and a half to repair. Eight years is not normal, and bus companies should not be allowed to stall for this excessive length of time.

NHTSA Rae Tyson said, “We don’t know what they have done and what they haven’t done.”

U.S. Bus failed to file some required paperwork with NHTSA. The company was repeatedly fined but never paid. Earlier this year, the agency found the TCI and U.S. Bus show “continuity of ownership, management, personnel, assets and general business operations.” In other words, they’re essentially the same company. The president of TCI did not comment on this story.

Claybrook, who is also former NHTSA chief, said that it took far too long for the agency to follow-up on this problem: “They are just completely off the job, asleep at the wheel.”

How many other unsafe school buses are on Atlanta roads? Hopefully not too many.

If you or a family member have been injured in a bus accident, contact an Atlanta bus accident attorney immediately. If you have questions about your legal rights, call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.