More than a third of school buses across Tennessee missed state-mandated annual inspection deadlines in recent years, according to a report by the state's comptroller.
The recent report found that 35 percent of school buses were inspected between one and 345 days late. That amounts to more than 3,500 buses that went without inspections for more than a year.
"The department's inability to inspect school buses and child-care vehicles annually increases the safety risks to school-age children and children in day care," the comptroller's office wrote in the report, which conducted an audit of certain operations of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security from June 2010 through April 2013.
The report also found that 9 percent of child-care vehicles missed inspection deadlines, some as long as 158 days late.
Much of the problem could be clerical, said Lt. Ray Robinson, the Tennessee Highway Patrol's director of pupil transportation.
"Certainly we concur with the report," he said. "However, we feel like the numbers are probably inflated."
While the audit showed show the need for a ramped-up effort to inspect buses in Tennessee, it also highlights the need for a better system to track which vehicles need inspections and which do not, Robinson said.
The comptroller's office determined the number of vehicles that missed inspection deadlines by comparing the number of buses that the highway patrol had inspected to the number of vehicles on file with the state's education department.
Some of those vehicles that went without inspections could have been taken out of service, Robinson said. Since August, the highway patrol has been working on a new system to try to reconcile its inspection numbers with the education department's figures.
"Our current inspection system doesn't rectify those situations," he said. "We're certainly looking at ways to make that better."
Another problem that has cropped up is vehicle identification numbers for some buses that don't match with other databases.
He said the highway patrol has a 13-person staff dedicated to inspecting buses across the state and providing training. In addition to the new tracking system, Robinson said his team plans to put in overtime to make sure all buses are inspected on time.
"I don't want the parents of Tennessee to be upset or concerned," he said. "School buses are still the safest vehicle on the road in Tennessee."