A panel discussion at this week’s National School Transportation Association in San Diego, California, shared several potential solutions to the illegal passing of stopped school buses, which industry officials have called an epidemic.
Technology took center stage during the Tuesday session, which featured the perspectives of United Safety & Survivability Corporation, Safe Fleet, Transfinder and Zonar Systems. The conversation was facilitated by Dan Kobussen, vice president of Wisconsin-based contractor Kobussen Bus and vice president of NSTA’s executive board.
Ken Hedgecock, national sales manager for United Safety, shared a two-pronged approach being explored. United Safety is working with HAAS Alert on vehicle-to-everything technology that would provide alerts to motorist via the Waze app or Google Maps about approaching school bus stops. Hedgecock explained that a transponder installed on school buses would transmit the alerts to motorists in various types of vehicles, as long as the motorists are using Waze or Google Maps while driving.
The technology is similar to a project Applied Information is working on with Blue Bird and IC Bus using Fulton County Schools buses in Atlanta, Georgia, which was featured during a general session last summer at STN EXPO Reno. That alerts are currently being tested in modified Audi e-Tron vehicles.
Additionally, Hedgecock described and showed video clips from tests of dozens of motorists as they approach a simulated school bus stop. The study indicated that oncoming drivers can be blinded by school bus headlights, especially in predawn or dusk hours. Hedgecock said the company is exploring the possibility of technology that would switch off the headlights when the stop arm is extended while also shining a light across the roadway to illuminate the path of students who are crossing the roadway. He added that the project is complicated and would require a lot of testing. But, he added, “It could be a game-changer.”
Safe Fleet Director of Sales Doug Campbell provided an overview of the company’s high-visibility, back-lit stop arm, Predictive Stop Arm, Stop Arm Camera, and inView 360HD camera that displays a view of the full perimeter around the school bus. Meanwhile, Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, discussed the role routing software can play in identifying routes plagued by illegal passing and how artificial intelligence optimization can “learn” alternative directions. It can also avoid crossing students and compare planned versus actual routes. But he noted that AI is currently under-utilized by student transporters.
Rounding up the conversation was H. Kevin Mest, vice president and general manager of Zonar, who provided an overview of a partnership with BusPatrol on illegal passing enforcement video.
Michelle Atwell, chief of the safety countermeasures division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Safety Programs, commented that the technology discussed and more is being reviewed in accordance with the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. On Wednesday, she updated NSTA attendees on the two-year review of illegal passing laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. She said the review will result in a comprehensive demonstration of existing and emerging school bus technologies that address illegal passing. NHTSA will issue a related report and resources.
Atwell added that the illegal passing review will also drive the development of supplemental driver education training to increase motorist knowledge about school bus stops and create a toolkit for pupil transportation stakeholders on both pupil transportation and pedestrian safety, especially in rural areas. Additionally, a toolkit for law enforcement agencies is in the works to address the need for a national strategy.
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