About 800 Montgomery Co. school buses affected by national safety recall

A school bus manufacturer is recalling as many as 53,000 buses nationwide, including hundreds belonging to Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland.

Daimler Trucks North America issued the voluntary recall out of an abundance of caution because the seat backs on the buses might not have enough padding to properly protect passengers in a crash.

Some 800 of the more than 1,300 buses in Montgomery County Public Schools’ fleet are affected.

“From what we understand, the risk is very small,” Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said. “But with anything pertaining to student safety, we want to respond quickly, and that is what we’re doing.”

Onijala said the affected buses will remain in operation until the safety upgrades can be made, and the school system hopes to finish all the fixes by the end of the school year in June.

“We’re going to be working closely with the manufacturer to address the needed repairs; the lack of sufficient padding around the seats’ metal frame,” she said.

It’s a different story for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, where spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said her district is not affected by the recall.

Meanwhile, the field of school bus safety is evolving, and Montgomery County Public Schools have started buying buses equipped with seat belts. Onijala said the district bought some 50 such buses over the summer.

“The latest research is showing that seat belts can enhance safety of students on school buses, and so we’re responding to that,” she said.

“Our buses have a life cycle of about 12 years, so as we start replacing buses and buying new buses as they come to the end of their life cycle, our goal is to purchase buses that have seat belts installed,” Onijala said.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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