Recently, I attended a presentation at the Rochester Area Transportation Supervisor’s Association in New York State on Drug and Alcohol awareness to meet U.S. federal requirements as stated in law §382.603.
At the meeting, we had the opportunity to see a new technology being used to monitor and notify carriers if an operator or mechanic has alcohol in their bloodstream. The state-of-the-art technology was originally designed to detect chemical weapons from sensors that were dropped from aircrafts.
Sober Steering, a company based out of Canada, developed this product that acts as an alcohol interlock for school buses and other vehicles. They accomplish this through transdermal sensors that are built into the steering wheel. The sensors detect alcohol through direct contact with the skin. With this alcohol interlock, in the event that a driver tries to start a vehicle with alcohol in their bloodstream, the transmission will not be able to shift out of park and an electronic notification is sent immediately to their employer. Another neat feature of this system allows for randomized rolling tests where the operator can provide a sample while the vehicle is in motion.
Note: The sensors are also available in the manufacturer’s OEM steering wheel color to blend in better and make it inconspicuous to passengers and the public.
There are many benefits of this new unobtrusive technology. The system is programmable to cycle sample interval rates and instantly notifies a supervisor and/or dispatch office if a driver has alcohol in their system or fails to place their hand on the sensor for three to five seconds. Employers are notified by email or text messages via GPS/telematics. I see this technology as a way to monitor drivers for alcohol use without having to cast doubt on our industry or bus drivers whether they drive a school bus, motor coach, or transit bus. Having drivers blow into a breathalyzer sends a negative connotation to passengers and the public that we hire drivers with alcohol problems. This system is virtually invisible to passengers and the public, yet it can provide high levels of safety to passengers, communities, and employers without degrading the image of our industry.
I encourage transportation professionals to look at upcoming technologies as tools to help keep our passengers safe. Most of us are always looking at the bottom-line when it comes to spending more money on bus options. However, this option can save passenger lives and keep operators out of the court system by ensuring our drivers are fit to drive.
Keep the rubber on the road and have a Happy New Year!
Peter Lawrence is the director of transportation for Fairport Central School District in upstate New York. He is a past STN Leadership Award winner and a conference presenter at the STN EXPO Conference.