Iowa school buses log over 42 million miles every year, and each bus is inspected twice annually. Owen Freese of Holstein inspects buses in the western half of Iowa for the Department of Education, and a colleague inspects buses in eastern Iowa..Freese calls the Iowa school bus fleet “tops” and he says schools work very hard to ensure their buses comply with all the rules and safety regulations. Freese says buses are very expensive, and that’s one reason schools pay such close attention to regular maintenance to keep them running for as long as possible.Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Kevin Techau says every one of Iowa’s 73-hundred school buses is also inspected by a State Trooper. Techau says 240-thousand Iowa kids ride a school bus, and the inspections help protect that “precious cargo.” Federal law prohibits the use of a bus manufactured before April 1st, 1977. Iowa Department of Education director Ted Stilwell says there’s no need, today, to set a “retirement date” for Iowa school buses.Stilwell says districts have done a good job with maintenance, but the time is going to come when schools will have to invest in upgrading the fleet. Freese, who used to be a school bus mechanic, was in Ankeny this morning, inspecting buses — and he was wearing knee pads. Freese gets down on his hands and knees to check for suspension, chassis, and steering, and brake problems. He has a 64-point check list. Freese says the familiar yellow school bus may look the same on the outside, but it’s a different vehicle from the ’60s. The seats have more padding. The ride is smoother because the suspension system is better. And most buses have an automatic transmissions. Freese, who used to be a school bus mechanic, says schools used to retire buses after 14 seasons, but there are a few buses in Iowa that were manufactured up to 25 years ago.
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