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Brakes warning now covers trucks


WASHINGTON - The scope of a problem involving brake failure on school buses broadened yesterday to include transit buses and large trucks.

As many as 300,000 school buses, transit buses and large trucks are at risk for brake failure at speeds of 20 mph or lower because of a defect in the vehicles' anti-lock brake system, manufacturer Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems reported.

At least 40 incidents of brake failure, five resulting in accidents, have occurred but no injuries resulted, said Rick Batyko, spokesman for the Elyria, Ohio-based company.

Sixteen of the 40 brake incidents - but none of the accidents - involved school buses. The problem does not affect the vehicles' emergency brake.

Batyko said a part will be replaced on all vehicles by the first few months of next year, with replacements on school buses to be completed by the end of November. Until then, he said, bus and truck makers will inspect the vehicles for flaws that have been connected to the braking problem.

Initial reports of the defect said 40,000 buses could be affected. Bendix said the defective brakes were installed on as many as 46,000 school and transit buses, as well as 254,000 large trucks of various makes, including semis.

The school bus manufacturers involved are Blue Bird Corp., International Truck and Engine Corp. and Thomas Built Buses Inc., a unit of Freightliner Corp.

There are about 440,000 school buses in the United States.

The defect involves the electronic control unit of the anti-lock braking system made in the past two years, Batyko said. That unit should be able to compensate when it receives faulty signals from the wheels, but in some cases it does not. The result can be a loss of braking ability at low speeds for up to four seconds.

A faulty signal can be generated by a frayed wire near the wheel or because of damage to a part called a tone ring. The vehicle inspections will check those parts for problems.

Reports of problems with the brakes first arose in March, and the defect was reported to federal regulators Aug. 1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has approved the manufacturer's remedy.

"Based on what we've seen so far, they've done everything required of them under law," Rae Tyson, spokesman for the traffic safety agency, said yesterday of the manufacturers. If regulators were dissatisfied with the companies' actions, they could have instituted their own recall.

Separately, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater called for legislation yesterday requiring manufacturers to notify U.S. officials when they recall products in another country.

Slater's comments came amid reports that Ford Motor Co. began replacing Firestone tires on its vehicles in at least 10 other countries last year and three countries this year, months before the Aug. 9 recall of Firestone tires in the United States.

Firestone tire failures have been linked to 88 deaths, U.S. highway officials have said.

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