HAMPSTEAD - Anna May Schaffer steps out of the yellow school bus, rag in hand, and begins wiping windows.
"I just cleaned this and look at it," she moans to James Doolan, Carroll's supervisor of transportation, who is standing nearby to oversee the inspection of Schaffer's bus and some 271 others.
About 50 buses stretch across the driveway and parking lot at North Carroll High School this particular morning, resembling a long, yellow-and-black caterpillar moving slowly along its path.
As Schaffer exits her bus, Betsy Gaines, Carroll's bus driver trainer, steps in, takes the driver's seat and shuts the door. In seconds, blinkers, headlights and running lights on the sides of the bus are flashing.
Inspection has begun.
"I think it's great," said Schaffer of the inspections. "We need this."
Schaffer, who is both bus driver and contractor to Carroll schools, has a fleet of four buses.
The school district has contracts with 75 bus contractors. The fleet travels some 18,000 miles a day, or 3.6 million miles a year, including field and special trips, Doolan said.
"We have a very good safety record," said Dave Reeve, an assistant in transportation for Carroll schools.
The inspections are conducted four times each year. Besides checking lights, inspectors, who range from school administrators to state-certified mechanics, inspect brakes, emergency doors, tires, steering columns, gauges and heaters to make sure everything is working.
Mechanics roll under buses, looking for things like fuel leaks, and check under hoods, searching for frayed or loose belts, all in the effort of maintaining safety for the some 20,000 Carroll students who ride buses to and from school five days a week, 180 days a year.
"It's a complete, 100 percent check of the bus," Doolan says. "We want to make sure everything is working properly."
For each bus, the inspection takes less than 10 minutes. Buses move through the inspection in assembly-line fashion -- first the lights, then under the hood and under the bus and tires.
Also inspected are some of the new safety features. They include roof hatches, which serve as escape routes should a bus turn over, and an 8-foot crossing-control arm, which, when released from the front bumper, keeps students out of a bus driver's blind spot.
Buses found to be in need of minor repair have 30 days to make amends.
Buses with major problems, such as fuel leaks, have state tags removed and cannot haul students until the problem is corrected.
Of the buses inspected this fall, only two were pulled from service because of major problems -- a fuel leak and inoperable lights, Doolan said. Several were in need of minor repairs.
"It's been a super inspection," Doolan said. "Our contractors do an excellent job in keeping their buses clean and safe. It makes our job and their job a lot easier."
Doolan isn't just bragging. Steven W. Ogle Sr., an inspector for the state Motor Vehicle Administration, gave Carroll high marks for its well-maintained fleet.
"They've done a good job here," he said. "This is a good county.
There's been a few minor things. In some counties, we're pulling tags left and right. Safety is No. 1."
Ogle also said the buses are very clean.
"I inspected a 10-year-old bus that was so clean you could eat off the floor," he said.