CBS46 investigates the age of school bus tires - CBS46 News

CBS46 investigates the age of school bus tires

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Tire failures are a primary cause of automobile wrecks in Georgia. There have been close to 2,500 crashes in two years alone.

Age is a prime reason for unsafe tires, but checking age is easy. Every tire is stamped with a DOT code that shows the week and month the tire was made.

A CBS46 investigation uncovered it's a marking that not many school districts ever pay attention to.

Twenty-three Louisville students were injured, some seriously, when an 11-year-old bus tire failed.

Atlanta school bus driver Geno Thomas is well aware of the danger.

"They're my little babies. They make me get up in the morning, so I love them," said Thomas.

Thomas knows the 70 lives she protects twice a day are relying on the tires that carry them.

"The middle tire gets flat more than any of them," said Thomas.

That's why she and other bus drivers are required to give tires a once over four times a day. What if the tires they inspect are too old to be safe?

At the Blue Bird factory in Ft. Valley, GA, we stumble across a dirty secret. Bus makers say school districts often strip new tires from freshly minted buses.

"It's not uncommon for school bus fleets to remove the rear tires and replace them with recapped tires," said Rusty Mitchell, Product Management Director at Blue Bird.

Ten thousand buses with new tires roll off his assembly line every year.

"Tires play a really big role in the safety of the vehicle," said Mitchell.

Yet before your kid's first ride, he says many Georgia schools are removing new rear tires and replacing them with older retread tires. Why? A retread tire is half the cost.

By saving the new tires for the front of the bus, where state law prohibits retreads, school districts could save thousands in tire replacement each year. Tire Safety Group founder Matt Wetherington says that doesn't mean tires can continue to be retread.

"A commercial tire that's meant to be retreaded may be able to go 300,000 miles, 400,000 miles but that doesn't mean it can go 10, 20, 30 years and continue to be retreaded and used on buses," said Wetherington.

Across the metro, school district mechanics do monthly tire inspections. The only mandate from the state is to check air pressure and tread depth. Safety experts question if that is enough.

"There's a lot more to tire safety than just checking the air pressure and the tread depth. The age of the tire matters," said Wetherington.

In Gwinnett, CBS46 found 6-year-old recapped tires on the bus they showed us. The district told us they don't recap or retread tires after they reach the five-year mark.

Marietta tells us retread tire casings only last up to seven years. Yet there was a 12-year-old tire on bus 89-05. We found 8- and 9-year-old tires on other buses in front of the high school.

"To have tires that are excessively aged on a bus puts the children's safety at risk and everyone who shares the road with those buses," said Wetherington.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't tested commercial tires to develop safety standards, but tire experts say the recommendations for passenger tires should apply.

"They're still made with the same underlying components, and those components will wear out over time and they will oxidize the same way a passenger tire will," said Wetherington.

Fifteen car makers tell owners to replace tires after six years. Saffiro is the only commercial tire manufacturer we found that recommends replacing its tires within eight years. Safety experts have strong words about the others.

"They don't want to acknowledge or admit the dangerous conditions that are present in their products," said Wetherington.

He claims it's those conditions that could lead to a tragic result the longer aged tires remain on the road.

Many school districts, however, tell CBS46 they feel retread tires are safe. CBS46 wanted to provide a look inside the retread tire business to show how they might weed out tires that should be retread and those that shouldn't, but the company that retreads tires for many Georgia school buses canceled our interview at the advice of their attorney.

To see which Atlanta school districts are removing new tires from buses and replacing them with retreads, which is legal, check out our spreadsheet.

Location Reply Notes
Fulton County No District has 900 buses. We have made an open records request for their tire purchase documents.
Cherokee County No District has 408 buses, which includes spares. Bought 10 new buses this year. Budget is $715,000. We have requested tire purchase documents.
Paulding County Yes Claim many larger districts do this practice.
DeKalb County No, but they have in the past. District has 950 buses total--850 in operations and all the buses total 60,000 miles of travel a day. 70% of students in DeKalb rely on buses. We have requested their purchase records.
Cobb County No We have made an open records request for their tire purchase documents.
Fayette County Yes, when retread tires are available. District does not track this data but claims it saves taxpayer money.
Coweta County No, but they have in the past. We have made an open records request for their tire purchase documents.
Douglas County No District only uses retread tires when the new tires wear out.
Atlanta City No Here's a link to Atlanta Public Schools tire purchases in the last year:
Gwinnett County No Didn't do the practice on most recent purchase of special needs buses. We have requested their purchase records.
Marietta City No, but they have in the past. Say practice saves $800, and tires taken off can be used on another bus.

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