Four hundred school buses in West Virginia have seat backs that may lack sufficient cushioning to prevent injury in crashes, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.
Thomas Built Buses, the manufacturer of the affected buses, said in a statement that “an increased risk of injury may be present during certain frontal impact events if an unrestrained passenger’s knee strikes certain portions of the seat back surface area” of the seat in front of them.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t ordered affected buses be taken out of service until the seats are fixed, according to Thomas Built, part of Germany-based Daimler AG.
“Additional impact absorption material will be added to the seat back,” Thomas Built said. “Thomas Built Buses and SynTec Seating Solutions are working as quickly as possible to develop the field repair and procure parts to release the recall repair.”
Kristin Anderson, the education department’s communications executive director, said Matheny, the West Virginia-based dealer for the buses, is compiling a list of where these buses are.
But Chuck Bennett, with Matheny Truck Centers, said Matheny doesn’t have the vehicle identification numbers yet for the affected buses. He said when the recall actually begins — it’s set to start Dec. 2 — a list will be available.
Brette Fraley, school transportation executive director for Kanawha County, said about 15-20 Kanawha buses are affected.
The issue possibly involves over 50,000 buses nationwide. Media reports from other states say many school systems, like Kanawha, are leaving the affected buses in service for now.
The Forest Hills School District, in Ohio, is taking its two affected buses out of service, according to a report from WLWT of Cincinnati.
Scott Pauley, a Kanawha bus mechanic, showed a reporter Friday another flaw with what he said was a seat made by North Carolina-based SynTec Seating Solutions, the manufacturer of the seats affected by the insufficient padding issue.
Simply by hitting the back of seats and listening to the sound, Pauley found a seat where the seat pan, a metal sheet that makes up the core of the seat beneath the padding, had become disconnected with the metal frame surrounding it. He said the spot welding had failed to keep the seat pan attached to the frame.
Pauley said this was an issue back in 2014, and he rediscovered it early last year.
Shannon Clouse, materials manager for SynTec, deferred comment to General Manager Justin Willcox, who didn’t return a call Friday.
West Virginia doesn’t require normal-sized school buses to have seat belts, despite the National Transportation Safety Board and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending them.
The state Board of Education has proposed bus-related policy changes that are currently out on public comment, and these changes don’t currently include requiring seat belts. The comment period ends 4 p.m. Nov. 12.
Without belts, buses rely on compartmentalization for safety — that’s the term for school buses having cushioned, high-backed seats spaced close to one another.
The seat backs in front of students are supposed to have enough padding to prevent injuries.