- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Owners of privately owned buses would have to submit proof of an inspection to state officials in order to register the vehicle under a bill filed at the Statehouse in response to a deadly church bus crash last summer.

Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/Mmg5xO ) the bill stemmed from a July crash of a bus carrying youths and chaperones from Colonial Hills Baptist Church back from a Michigan camp. The church’s youth pastor, his pregnant wife and a chaperone died in the crash.

Investigators found no mechanical issues with the church bus. But Wyss said the public should know if a bus has been inspected.

His bill, which would affect buses holding at least 16 passengers, would require Indiana State Police to establish criteria for inspecting private buses. Inspections likely would be carried out by government-approved mechanics and would include checks of the brakes, steering, tires and other parts.

Wyss said the inspection results would be accessible through public records requests.

“It’s back to public safety,” Wyss said. “If we as a state are going to legitimize you with a license plate, I think the general public believes it’s legitimately a safe vehicle.”

Former National Transportation Safety Board chairman James Hall said the bill is a “good step” toward increasing accountability and transparency for owners of private buses.

He urged lawmakers to consider additional safeguards to hold private buses to the same standards as commercial ones by ensuring that those inspecting the buses are properly trained.

He also suggested including a decal on the bus indicating when it was last inspected.

“This is an opportunity for Indiana to really lay down a standard that other states can follow,” Hall said.

Wyss’s bill would tie inspections to bus registration with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. When a private bus owner obtains or renews a registration, the bus would have to submit to the annual inspection program through the State Police.

Indiana State Police Lt. Mark Carnell, legislative director for the State Police, said it wouldn’t be difficult to find inspectors for private buses.

He said about 2,100 privately owned buses are registered in Indiana.

If passed, Wyss’s bill would take effect July 1 but would give private bus companies until Dec. 31, 2015, to comply.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com