Rutherford Co. school buses fail inspection at higher rate than other districts

WSMV4 Investigates combed through a year’s worth of inspection data and uncovered which school district buses failed inspections.
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 7:27 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2022 at 7:28 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - WSMV4 Investigates combed through a year’s worth of inspection data and uncovered Rutherford County Schools buses failed inspections at a higher rate than other area districts.

Of the major school districts in Middle Tennessee, most had an inspection failure rate between 6 and 15%. Rutherford County Schools had a nearly 25% failure rate.

It’s concerning for parents like Kelly Causley.

“Parents depend on that transportation, and they want to know their kids are safe being transported to and from school,” Causley said. “I think it is appalling. I mean, these are our kids’ lives at stake, not to mention the bus drivers also.”

Rutherford County Schools spokesperson James Evans said the reason the fail rate is higher because the district uses an owner-contractor system. That means the district doesn’t own its buses and doesn’t have a district-owned bus garage.

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers inspect buses at a bus barn for most Middle Tennessee school districts. If they find issues during the inspection, they can do some fixes immediately.

“If a light is out, the bus is out of service,” Trooper Jeremy Hoyt said. “They can go and put a bulb back in, and it will put them right back in service.” If the fix can be made before the inspection is completed, that violation will not fail the inspection. Evans said its independent contractors have to take the time to go and find the part on their own, and the inspector marks it as a failure until they are able to re-inspect it.

“That naturally inflates our numbers and makes them a higher percentage than others,” Evans said.

Evans said this method cuts costs even if it means more buses are off the streets for longer periods of time.

Causley said she wonders how long the bus had issues before its annual required inspection.

“I never want to get a phone call saying my stepdaughter’s buses have flipped over, been in a wreck or anything like that,” Causley said.

Rutherford County Schools said drivers are supposed to do a pre-check before every route and report any issues. The district said starting this year, it plans to start tracking failure rates among certain contractors who have repeated problems.

According to data provide by the Tennessee Department of Safety from August 2021 to August 2022:

  • Clarksville Montgomery County District Schools had 704 bus inspections with 82 deemed failures
  • Metro Nashville Public Schools had 899 bus inspections with 138 failures
  • Rutherford County Schools had 591 inspections with 142 failures
  • Sumner County Schools had 304 inspections with 46 failures
  • Williamson County Schools had 462 inspections with 42 failures
  • Wilson County Schools had 282 inspections with 17 failures