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Thu, Nov. 21

District has one school bus with suspect brake system

The Chino Valley School District is moving quickly to identify any buses with defective brake systems and fix them after one of the country's largest school bus builders warned that 6,000 recent models may have faulty anti-lock brakes.

When the vehicles are moving slowly, typically less than 20 miles per hour, they can lose their braking ability for as long as three seconds, said a spokesman for Freightliner Corp., the Portland, Ore. parent company of school bus maker Thomas Built Buses Inc.

The brake system manufacturer, Bendix of Elyria, Ohio, discovered the problem after a San Francisco school bus experienced a temporary loss of braking power. The driver was able to stop safely.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that officials have not directly linked any accidents to the Bendix brake systems, although 40 drivers around the country have reported incidents in which they briefly lost braking power.

Since the problem does not affect the emergency brake, drivers always have a secondary braking system.

The Chino Valley district only has one bus that had the suspect anti-lock brakes. Transportation director Jeff Lambert said the bus was inspected for frayed wires and potential flaws, but none were found. The bus is still running.

"I can't afford to down a bus that's not downable," Lambert said. "What they've told us (would cause the problems) is not what we've found."

Lambert explained that he has received no official recall notice from Blue Bird, the company that manufactures Chino Valley's buses.

And even so, "we receive recall notices all the time, and most of them don't make the newspapers," Lambert said. "Most of the time, they're just telling us a part needs to be fixed or replaced."

Lambert added the chances that the supsect brakes on the bus would fail are one in 4,000, and if it does happen, the risk is low because the speed is so slow.

"Even if it does fail, it won't put the kids in jeopardy," Lambert said.

Freightliner has sold 300,000 of the anti-lock brake systems, built from March 1998 to last month. About 46,000 are in International, Blue Bird and Thomas Built buses. The same defect could affect as many as 300,000 commercial vehicles, the Associated Press reported.

(Review reporter Lee Pulaski contributed to this article.)

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