Company Warns on School Bus Brakes

Saturday, September 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the country's largest school bus builders is warning school districts that the brake systems on an estimated 6,000 buses may be defective, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

Thomas Built Buses Inc. of High Point, N.C., wrote in an Aug. 30 letter sent to hundreds of school districts nationwide that the defect involves the anti-lock brake system on buses manufactured between March 1998 and last month.

The brake system's electronic control units can ``misinterpret'' certain signals from the wheels, resulting in the temporary loss of braking capability ``in one or more wheel positions,'' the letter said.

The company told the districts how to inspect their buses' brakes and said repair kits were being manufactured and would be shipped by November.

Calls to the company's headquarters for comment Saturday were not answered.

Officials at Freightliner Corp., Thomas Built's Portland, Ore.-based parent company, said they were notified of the braking problem in June by Bendix, the brake system's manufacturer.

Bendix reported an incident in which a San Francisco school bus experienced a ``temporary loss of brake capability,'' although the driver was able to bring the bus to a safe stop, Freightliner President Jim Hebe told the Post.

Hebe said Thomas Built is just one of several bus manufacturers that use the Bendix system. The two companies discussed the problem with officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he said.

``Action was taken as quickly as possible,'' Hebe said. ``We are the first manufacturer to notify our customers. We are extremely concerned about this.''

Hebe said school officials could call a Freightliner help line — 800-FTL-HELP — to arrange for an inspection of any buses that might present a safety problem.

Some school districts said they had yet to receive the warning from Thomas Built about the braking problem. Others complained the company's letter was unclear.

``The letter is vague and cryptic and borderline irresponsible in its lack of detail,'' said Brian Porter, a spokesman for the Montgomery County, Md., school district.