At least twice a year, the tens of thousands of school buses transporting our kids to school are inspected by the state for safety features such as brakes, steering, tires, lighting, emergency exits and seatbelts.

And more than three quarters of the time, the bus will fail for any number of issues — inspectors have a checklist of over 180 safety features to examine.

If there's a significant issue that can't be fixed immediately, the bus will be pulled from service. At least 50% of buses that fail are able to get back on the road in the same day.

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Chair and Chief Administrator Sue Fulton used a visit to Hightstown on Tuesday to observe inspections and give media a behind-the-scenes look at the process. She's scheduled to make similar stops in Passaic and Camden counties over the next week.

"This exercise is not just for show," Fulton said. "It's a year 'round daily routine that our Inspection Services Unit devotes nearly 100 employees to."

Sue Fulton, NJ MVC Chair and Chief Administrator, leads a school bus inspection event in Hightstown. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

The specialized unit inspects some 24,000 school buses twice a year, as well as driver records. In addition, a state task force conducts 100 unannounced inspections "to keep operators on their toes," Fulton said.

"What we're looking for is to make sure the vehicle is prepared for safe operation," said Phil Batten, regional supervisor for the unit.

Batten said one inspection could take a couple hours, depending on the number of issues uncovered.

Certain minor offenses won't force a bus off the road.

Fulton touted New Jersey's school bus laws as the toughest in the nation. New Jersey requires that every bus be outfitted with a crossing arm to prevent kids from passing directly in front of a bus, out of the view of a driver. The state also requires front and back sensors to detect an object or small child.

Since a May 2018 school bus crash that claimed the lives of a 10-year-old student and a teacher, Gov. Phil Murphy has signed eight bills designed to improve the safety of buses and their drivers, including a three-point-seatbelt requirement and additional medical exams for older drivers.

The state runs a school bus report card online, where individuals can find the inspection records for districts and individual vehicles.

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