The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is including school buses in a call for mandatory passive-integrated alcohol impairment detection systems or similar technology, following an investigation into a fatal, high-speed and head-on collision between an SUV and a pickup truck last year.
The SUV driver, who was later determined to be drunk, died as did all eight occupants of the truck during the New Year’s Day crash.
NTSB made its recommendation on Sept. 20. It asks the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require all vehicles be equipped with alcohol impairment detection capabilities, advanced driver monitoring systems, or a combination of the two. Passive-integrated alcohol impairment detection system is technology that senses the blood-alcohol content (BAC) of a potential driver and prohibits the vehicle from starting if levels above the legal limit are detected.
Additionally, NTSB reiterated a previous recommendation to NHTSA that it incentivize vehicle manufacturers and consumers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems that could prevent speed-related crashes.
A senior NTSB official told School Transportation News that school buses are included along with all other vehicles but not because investigators view drunk school bus drivers as a widespread issue. Instead, NTSB is seeking to cast a wider safety net around all driver behavior behind the wheel.
In crafting the recommendations, the senior official noted the conclusions from two high-profile school bus crashes that occurred weeks apart in November 2016, namely that inadequate monitoring of both school bus drivers contributed to the fatal incidents. A Baltimore Public Schools bus driver suffered an epileptic seizure behind the wheel on Nov. 1 of that year. Three weeks later, a school bus driver for Chattanooga Public Schools in Tennessee crashed after speeding and talking on a cell phone. Both drivers had a history of driving issues, whether they be health-related in the case of the Baltimore driver or unsafe driving practices by the Chattanooga driver.
In both instances, NTSB determined that the school bus contractor companies that employed the bus drivers and the school districts for which the services were being provided failed to provide adequate driver oversight.
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While equipping school buses with alcohol impairment sensors could be cost-prohibitive for many school districts, if not unnecessary, the senior official at NTSB alluded to GPS units already equipped on school buses that can provide in-depth data on not only vehicle performance but driver performance and behavior.
Artificial intelligence solutions are currently available that provide data from G-sensor event detection and video captured from real routes. This information can be used to identify risky behaviors, coach drivers, and reward staff for safety and efficiency. The technology can also alert supervisors in real time to possible distractions, whether they be caused by alcohol or something else.
Meanwhile, NHTSA is a partner with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety on the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) Research Program. It is working with automotive manufacturers to research a first-of-its-kind technology that would detect when a driver is intoxicated with a (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent – the legal limit for passenger vehicle motorists in all 50 states, but commercial driver limits are lower – and prevent the car from moving. The system will be made available as a safety option in new vehicles, much like automatic braking, lane departure warning and other advanced driver assist vehicle technologies.