The parent company of Thomas Built, one of the nation’s largest school bus builders, is warning that 6,000 of its buses may have defective brake systems, the Associated Press (AP) reported over the Labor Day weekend. The same brake systems also are in some International and Blue Bird brand buses, AP reported.

When the vehicles are moving slowly, typically less than 20 miles per hour, they can temporarily lose their braking ability for up to three seconds, said Debi Nicholson, a spokeswoman for Freightliner Corp., the Portland-based parent company of Thomas Built Buses Inc.

The problem was discovered by the brake system’s manufacturer, Bendix of Elyria, Ohio, after a San Francisco school bus experienced a temporary loss of brake capability. The driver was able to stop safely.

No accidents have been directly linked to the brake systems, and Bendix spokesman Rick Batyko said on Sept. 2 that the emergency brake is unaffected by the problem.

Batyko said there have been 40 reported incidents of drivers temporarily losing braking power, but no accidents.

It is only under ‘very rare circumstances’ that the brake system would completely fail, he said.

The company has sold 300,000 of the same anti-lock brake systems, manufactured from March 1998 to last month. About 46,000 are in buses made by International, Blue Bird and Thomas Built.

Batyko said Bendix has recommended that all its manufacturers who use the brake system issue recalls.

The brake system’s electronic control units can ‘misinterpret’ certain signals from the wheels, resulting in the temporary loss of braking capability ‘in one or more wheel positions,’ Thomas Built wrote in an Aug. 30 letter sent to hundreds of school districts nationwide.

The company said repair kits were being manufactured and would be shipped by November. Meanwhile, Freightliner dealerships are prepared to inspect buses around the clock, Nicholson said.

‘We’re certainly trying to react as quickly as possible,’ Nicholson said Saturday. ‘We wanted schools to have an opportunity to inspect their buses before school starts.’

The companies have discussed the problem with officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, she said.


Freightliner Corp.

Benix Brakes

Thomas Built Inc.

Blue Bird Corp.