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Navistar Broadens School-Bus Recall to 185,000

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Navistar International Transportation Corporation has broadened to 185,000 the number of school buses it is recalling for a fuel-system defect that could cause a fire.

The Chicago-based company announced last month that it was voluntarily recalling all International-brand school bus chassis built since Sept. 1, 1978.

Tests conducted by the company found that all of the buses have fuel tanks that may rupture and leak in a crash.

Officials from Navistar and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration note that there are no known injuries or deaths related to the problem, even though many of the buses have been in use for more than a decade.

Neither the NHTSA nor Navistar has urged school districts to stop using the buses, which account for almost half of the nation's school-bus fleet.

"It seems to us a prudent decision to continue to use these school buses,'' said William A. Boehly, the associate administrator for enforcement at NHTSA.

Mr. Boehly said most systems will have to open for this school year before the buses are repaired, and students would be at far greater risk riding to school in passenger cars--a method of transportation that is estimated to be four times as dangerous as school-bus travel.

Legal Advice Counseled

Fred B. Lifton, a legal adviser to the American Association of School Administrators, last month suggested that school districts contact their lawyers and insurers to determine whether, under the laws of their state, they could be found negligent and liable in the event of an accident involving the buses.

Navistar has offered to repair the buses without charge on site. It estimates that each bus will take one or two hours to fix.

Several school transportation officials contacted last month said they would continue to use the recalled buses.

"It is almost impossible that we not use those buses,'' said Don T. Shields, the superintendent of schools in Dallas County, Tex. He estimated that International buses make up one-fifth of his district's fleet.

Randy J. McLerran, the state transportation officer for the Oklahoma Department of Education, said districts and private school-bus operators in his state are "cautioning their drivers just to be extra cautious, to be cognizant of the fact.''

The recall initially affected only 24,000 bus chassis with 30-gallon fuel tanks. It was extended to another 161,000 buses equipped with 65-gallon tanks after tests revealed those buses had the same defect.

--Peter Schmidt

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