Among the five safety improvements it seeks on highways, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) calls for the required use of collision avoidance and connected vehicle technologies on all vehicles in its 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.
The NTSB states that because a large percentage of highway crashes are caused by distracted or inattentive drivers, collision avoidance and connected vehicle technologies can address human error, potentially saving thousands of lives on the nation’s roads.
The technologies also include forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, which can warn the driver of an upcoming hazard and take control of the vehicle if the driver does not respond. Connected vehicle technologies also allow vehicles to relay important safety information to each other to avoid crashes.
The NTSB adds, however, that most passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles such as school buses are not equipped nor are required to be equipped with “life-saving technologies.” It also states that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not developed comprehensive performance standards for these technologies, or effectively evaluate them and include the information in its vehicle safety ratings.
But the school bus industry has made strides in providing these autonomous advances. For instance, in 2018 IC Bus was the first OEM to make electronic stability control (ESC) and collision mitigation technologies standard equipment on school buses.
“We believe these are very important features that provide an extra level of safety for passengers that further reinforces the school bus as the safest form of transportation for students,” Trish Reed, vice president and general manager of IC bus told School Transportation News. She added that the take rate for collision mitigation systems has doubled since its launch.
In addition to ESC and collision mitigation, IC also offers a number of safety technologies, one of which is its full-view camera. “This technology was specifically developed for school bus applications to reduce blind spots around the school bus and help the driver monitor the danger zone, where a large majority of incidents happen,” Reed added.
Other OEMs have made similar moves. Last December, Thomas Built Buses announced that Bendix Intellipark electronic parking brake will come as a factory-installed option on the Saf-T-Liner C2 equipped with a Cummins diesel or Detroit Diesel powertrain and an air brake package. It also comes standard on the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric bus, explained Leslie Kilgore, vice president of Engineering at Thomas Built.
“Designed and manufactured by Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Intellipark helps prevent rollaway and runaway crashes by automatically setting the parking brake if the driver forgets and exits the vehicle without setting the brake,” she said. “When the parking brake is set, the driver must take intentional actions to release the brake, such as pressing the service brake pedal, turning the key to the ‘on’ position and closing the wheelchair lift door, when equipped.”
In March, the company announced that WABCO OnGuardACTIVE collision mitigation system is a factory-installed option for the Saf-T-Liner C2 diesel school buses that are equipped with air disc brakes. In addition, WABCO’s SmartTrac ESC system also comes as a standard feature on all new Saf-T-Liner C2, Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley, Saf-T-Liner C2 CNG, Saf-T-Liner HDX, and Saf-T-Liner EFX school buses.
Thomas offers auto-reversing doors on all versions of the Saf-T-Liner C2 School buses, which is the first of its kind feature in the industry. This feature allows the front entry doors to reopen automatically if they sense an object or obstruction in the doorway.
The manufacturer based in High Point, North Carolina, also offers add-on technology improvements such as pedestrian detection systems, 360 view cameras, and a collision avoidance alert system. “To date, mostly larger fleets and contractors are adding advanced safety technology options to their school buses, although interest in these features is high among all customers,” Kilgore said.
Then last month, Blue Bird Corporation announced it is working with Audi of America, Applied Information and Temple Inc. to deploy cellular vehicle-to-everything technology, which is aimed at helping reduce vehicle hazards that vulnerable school children face.
The company also offers ESC through Bendix ESP on all Type C and D buses, and collision mitigation from Mobileye as standard equipment.
“[Safety technologies] are very prevalent in the automobile industry and those technologies eventually migrate into the school bus world,” said John Barrington, director of product planning for Blue Bird Corporation. “And as drivers become used to them and expect them on their vehicles, it’s important for us — obviously from the safety standpoint to have them, but it also provides a certain level of comfort for a driver because they’re used to using those systems and seeing those systems.”
Barrington added that Blue Bird is focused on bringing technology to the market that resonates with problems that drivers face, which is why the connected school bus will be a huge win for the industry down the road.
“When you boil it down, our mission is to provide safe transportation to students,” he said. “Anything that we can do that enhances the safety of the vehicle is worth at a minimum investigating it, and as possible as bringing that technology to the vehicle. … Our core business is safety. And so, that’s where our default has to be.”
The Lion Electric Company also offers stability control and advanced driver assistance options to its customers but did not say whether the technology would become a standard.
Related: NASDPTS Responds to Latest NTSB Safety Recommendations for School Buses
Related: NTSB: Emergency Responders Are Unprepared for Responding to Electric Vehicles Fires
Related: NTSB Offers Information on Managing Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue Risks
Related: NTSB Issues Initial Facts of Fatal Tennessee School Bus Crash
“When looking at any new vehicle technology, increased safety must be the primary focus,” Ronna Webber, executive director of the National State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, told School Transportation News. “There have been so many technological advances in recent years that when considering any technology, it is important to understand what the technology offers generally, what the different options may be on the vehicle being considered for purchase, and how the technology performs. The driver then needs to understand this technology and its limitations so he or she may react accordingly when it is deployed. NASDPTS supports the efforts by the manufacturers to increase safety through advanced technology.”
In addition to requiring collision-avoidance and connected-vehicle technologies, the NTSB recommends a comprehensive strategy to eliminate speeding-related crashes be implemented, as well as a safe system approach to protecting vulnerable road users and prevention of alcohol and other drug-impaired driving. It also states to eliminate distracted driving, noting that using a device hands-free does not reduce driver distraction.