The school bus industry has seen an exponential increase in new safety features these past few years. Starting with electronic stability control in 2018, school bus manufacturers have tapped into the latest innovations from the automotive and trucking industries to make the safest form of transportation on the roads today even safer.
From autonomous safety features to better surveillance technologies, these innovations are moving beyond the durable and safe construction of the bus to providing support to school bus drivers and protecting pedestrians outside of the bus as it protects those inside.
“This is an exciting time to be a part of the school bus industry,” said Jed Routh, vice president of sales, service and marketing at Thomas Built Buses. “Never before in the history of pupil transportation have we seen such a flurry of innovation as it relates to new and advanced safety features on school buses. Here at Thomas Built Buses, we are collaborating with our sister brands like Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Trucks under the Daimler umbrella to leverage the latest in safety technologies to make our school buses even safer.”
Electronic Stability Control
In terms of new autonomous safety features, school bus manufacturers like Thomas Built Buses are incorporating technologies that assist school bus drivers by intervening when a school bus seems to be off course or unbalanced in some way. A few years ago, all major school bus manufacturers added electronic stability control (ESC) on their buses as standard equipment.
ESC senses when a bus is at risk of a rollover or loss of control, especially on a slippery curve or during an evasive or otherwise dangerous maneuver, and automatically intervenes in these situations to help the driver maintain control. The system works with the air disc and drum brakes to slow movement and align the vehicle with the driver’s intended path of travel.
Collision Mitigation and Avoidance Systems
In combination with ESC systems and air disc brakes, many school districts are now opting to add on collision mitigation systems, which include active braking and adaptive cruise control. Using forward-looking long-range radar to detect objects up to 650 feet ahead of a school bus, some collision mitigation systems, like the OnGuardACTIVETM collision mitigation system, provide audible, haptic and visual warnings intended to alert drivers to possible obstructions.
The systems are designed to detect a potential rear-end collision without the driver taking action to decelerate, to engage active braking to automatically throttle down the engine and, if necessary, to apply the foundation brakes to help avoid an impending collision.
Similarly, the adaptive cruise control feature of the collision mitigation system utilizes the same radar to assist drivers in maintaining a safe following distance. The system maintains the set cruising speed when the lane ahead is clear and is designed to automatically adjust the speed to maintain a set time interval between the bus and other vehicles ahead.
To further assist the driver, collision avoidance systems can also detect and mitigate collisions, but they go a step further to alert drivers of pedestrians, cyclists, lane departures and even speeding beyond the posted limit.
Not all safety features are beneficial to the bus while in motion. In fact, Thomas Built Buses’ Intellipark® feature, designed and manufactured by Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, actually holds the bus in place.
Intellipark is an advanced electric parking brake system that helps prevent rollaway and runaway crashes by automatically setting the parking brake if the driver forgets to set it before exiting the vehicle. After the brake has been set, the driver must take intentional steps to release the brake.
“We are really focusing on protecting those most vulnerable – those outside of the school bus,” said Routh. “As we know, the school bus is the safest form of transportation for drivers and students on the road. But those outside of the bus, students embarking and disembarking from the bus, crossing the street or even kneeling down near the bus are extremely vulnerable. So, while we continue to make the operation of the school bus safer, we are now using the latest in sensors, cameras and haptics to make the area outside of the bus safer as well.”
One feature that is gaining more attention is Thomas Built Buses’ PerimeterView® 360 camera package, also known as PV360. PV360 provides bus drivers a 360-degree bird’s-eye view all the way around the bus.
The first of its kind in the industry, this technology is composed of wide-angle cameras installed in the front, back and sides of the school bus. The four cameras provide crisp, real-time video footage so the bus driver always has full visibility around the bus. The driver can easily see all four camera feeds at once or zoom in to individual cameras if necessary to better view pedestrians outside of the bus or even oncoming traffic.
In addition to PV360, Thomas Built Buses is also actively working on their Saf-T-ZoneTM pedestrian detection system, which helps bus drivers detect objects and individuals within range of the bus.
Composed of LED ground lights, radar units and cross-view mirror lights, this technology allows for precise detection of students and objects within ten feet of the front, back or sides of the school bus.
When a pedestrian is detected, drivers are alerted via an in-cabin tablet and cross-view mirror lights.
Finally, there is a suite of new technologies emerging to assist students as they enter or exit the school bus.
A first in the industry, the new auto-reversing door feature available on Thomas Built buses allows the front entry doors of school buses to reopen automatically if they sense an object or obstruction in the doorway.
When activated, the system will sound an alarm and the doors will automatically reopen if something or someone is blocking the doorway. This is particularly helpful with smaller children who may get caught in the door and possibly be dragged following disembarking.
And for those students trying to cross the street, a new feature called Stage 2 Lighting will illuminate either green or red lights on the front of the bus alerting students when it is safe to cross the street.
While this list of safety features is impressive, industry professionals say that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As school bus electrical infrastructure continues to evolve, so too will the plethora of safety features available for school buses.
To learn more about these or any other safety features in the market today, please contact your Thomas Built Buses dealer.