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Districts Urged To Check Buses for Potentially Hazardous Handrails

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Federal officials have renewed a warning to school districts this fall to check their buses for handrails that could endanger children.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that as many as 100,000 buses, roughly one-fifth of the nation's school-bus fleet, have not been inspected.

The agency undertook a campaign two years ago to alert bus manufacturers and schools to the potential hazards. The handrails alongside the steps at the door can sometimes ensnare clothing as children step off the bus.

Initially, four companies volunteered to recall their vehicles in response to the warning. As of this month, six more companies had joined the recall.

The nhtsa reissued its reminder at the beginning of this school year, however, because one other bus manufacturer, the Wayne Corp. of Richmond, Ind., went out of business before it could inspect all its buses.

Dangerous Handrails

Since 1991, five students have been killed and several others injured when their clothes--especially coat drawstrings--snagged on the handrails, according to the federal agency. The students were dragged and run over as the bus moved forward.

To eliminate the danger, the manufacturers installed a new type of handrail or placed a piece of rubber between the existing rail and the wall.

But with buses made by Wayne, school districts must see to repairs themselves, nhtsa officials said last week. The agency had also encouraged districts to use the summer months to check out vehicles that were not inspected by the manufacturers.

In Prince George's County, Md., the maintenance crew for the district had to inspect and modify about 450 buses this summer, said Christopher Cason, a spokesman for the suburban Washington district. Those buses--almost half the district's fleet--were made by the Wayne Corp.

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