The element of surprise doesn't play a big enough role in school bus inspections, according to a proposed law moving through the New Jersey Legislature.

Under the measure, which was advanced by the Senate Transportation Committee, most school buses in the state would have to undergo at least one unannounced check-up each year, courtesy of the Motor Vehicle Commission.

The surprise inspection would be part of at least two yearly inspections overall for Type I (17 to 54 passengers) and Type II (10 to 16 passengers) buses, according to the measure.

"Right now, we're conducting about 100 school bus inspections that are unannounced, relative to 47,000 buses through pre-scheduled or announced inspections," said. Sen. Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, a sponsor of the bill.

The inspections cover not only the mechanics of the bus; MVC inspectors want to also make sure that all bus drivers have the proper documentation.

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Speaking on behalf of the New Jersey Association for School Business Officials, Michael Vrancik told lawmakers that the proposal can create significant hardships for districts that have their own bus fleets.

"If you're going to do a surprise inspection, you can't show up first thing in the morning, which often happens, because districts aren't going to be able to comply," Vrancik said.

Many districts have all of their buses on runs at the same time, Vrancik said. And sometimes, he said, the mechanics of the buses are helping out with staff shortages during morning and afternoon runs and wouldn't be able to be on hand for a surprise inspection.

In response, Mukherji said timing of inspections shouldn't be a concern — inspectors can conduct their surprise visits in the middle of the day, outside of pickup and drop-off times.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. A companion bill in the Assembly has not been heard by a committee yet.

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