In January, STN Magazine reported that national school bus loading and unloading fatalities doubled in 2016-17, according to the survey published by the Kansas Department of Education and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.
The most dangerous area of school bus loading and unloading is at the right dual rear wheels, know as the Danger Zone. This is where most student serious injuries and fatalities occur. From 2007 to 2017, there have been 60 injuries and 20 fatalities reported in the U.S. that involve the right rear wheels.
When John Benish, Jr., Chief Operating Officer of school bus contractor Cook-Illinois Corp., met inventor Mark B. Barron of Public Transportation Safety International (“PTS”) at the National School Transportation Association, Benish was highly impressed with Barron’s Minimize The Danger Zone (“MDZ”) Shield that is designed to prevent injuries and fatalities in the Danger Zone.
Benish’s company operates 2,300 school buses that service over 200 school districts in the Chicago area, and is one of the top-six national contractors. Known as an innovator in the student transportation industry, while operating his father’s namesake company for more than four decades, Cook-Illinois transports over 7 million school children a year. Though school buses are actually the safest form of transportation in consideration of the number of children they move, Benish was looking for a solution to close the Danger Zone gap. The rise of school bus fatalities within the Danger Zone has shifted industry focus to proactive safety measures.
Before inviting Barron to Chicago, John conducted his due diligence. He found that the MDZ Shield is made of high-performance BASF urethane, and is bolted to the bus’s auxiliary floor cross members near the right rear wheel well. It closes the two-foot gap that leaves children exposed to the right rear wheel. Similar to the S-1 GARD developed by PTS for mass transit that has proven to prevent injuries and fatalities, the MDZ Shield is designed to deflect a person from the path of the rear dual wheels, thereby preventing rollover. The California Highway Patrol has already signed off on the MDZ Shield in Calif.
“After seeing a live demonstration and the test results,” said Benish, “I’m convinced that when the MDZ Shield can save even one child’s life, it is a must have for all C and D class school buses.” Benish agreed to an installation.
The Illinois Department of Transportation came by to inspect Benish’s vehicle in January with the installed MDZ Shield and released the bus to service. This opens the door to have the MDZ Shield installed on other school buses in 34 more states. “Safety is our first priority and the legacy of our company stands behind it,” John said.
The school bus transportation industry is quickly changing. Original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) are constantly becoming more innovative, striving to make safety their number one priority. An example of that is when they lowered the hoods on school buses several years ago, to create better visibility to see children in front of the bus. Today, a host of new technologies are available in the industry, such as the MDZ Shield, and other advanced products.