Driving the Crash-Proof School Bus

Common sense dictates there's no such thing. Or does it?

Technology holds a lot of promise, but true safety of school children on and around school buses rests with well-trained drivers.
Everyone from the federal government to vehicle safety experts to parents agree that the yellow school bus is the safest mode of transportation available to students ... and on the road, period. Yet, for "only" its average of 20 student fatalities a year, five on board the school bus and about 15 occurring during loading and unloading at school bus stops, no one would venture to say that school buses are 100 percent safe. It remains a fact, as well, that approximately 12,000 students suffer some kind of injury, however slight that might be, during school bus crashes that range from the minor fender bender to a more serious incident.

So, when Cadillac announced today that it has its sights set on a crash-proof car, that made me sit up and take notice.

John Capp, the director of Global Active Safety at Cadillac, said today that the future of the brand, and perhaps the entire line of General Motors vehicles, could one day include in-vehicle Doppler radar to spot traffic jams or other obstructions in the road ahead. Capp added that he can foresee a time when autonomous vehicles can communicate with each other, traffic signals and buildings. Cadillacs could even drive themselves. And don't forget that GM makes commercial cutaway chassis used by Type A school buses.

Sounds like something for the SyFy channel, no? Apparently not. Capp went on to say that Cadillac is already on the road, so to speak, to realizing such innovative technology. Let's take a look at some of these, shall we?

Cadillac's engineers have already developed life-saving "active" safety technologies for 2010, and certainly other auto manufacturers have made similar strides over the past couple of years. But, really, a crash-proof car? Capp said that lane-departure warnings, blind spot alert and adaptive cruise control -- all equipment available on today's market -- can make this a reality.

As for school buses, certainly no time soon, unfortunately, will they be crash-proof. Yes, there are dozens of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards specific just to school buses plus similar safety technologies and products that are feasible or already an option for school buses. But by and large the remain a pipe dream for cash-strapped districts. So, the best safety device on school buses remains the drivers.

Long a hallmark of school bus safety along with the sturdy vehicle construction is the training of drivers and the rigorous background checks. Only a few years ago, products were being pitched as the best way to increase safety. But after the recession, and with schools still entrenched in their budget woes, driver behavior and training has never been more important. Not only can it be more cost effective, it works.

Look no further than U.S. Department of Transportation initiatives over the last year dealing with distracted driving and, FMCSA's CSA 2010, which school bus contractors with federal DOT numbers must follow but from which school district drivers are exempt. But take a look at CSA 2010 program, and many of the safety aspects of this safety analysis already are addressed with school bus drivers, or the industry is working toward.

So is a crash-proof school bus possible? I suppose anything is. But first and foremost it starts with the driver.

Last modified onFriday, 25 April 2014 05:42