Michael Benedict is a safety consultant in Provo, Utah, who works with the school bus industry. He’s also a school bus monitor for the local school district. When it comes to automated systems such as breaking and crash detection, he’s adamant that such systems should not be installed on commer- cial-grade vehicles that carry passengers. “If there are sudden inclement weather conditions, and if an automated system is engaged, there may not be enough time to disengage the system and bring the vehicle to a safe stop,” he said. “However, if the operator is in total control of a vehicle like a school bus or shuttle bus, the [operator] stands a much better chance of being able to bring the vehicle to a safe stop and to evacuate the vehicle if necessary. In turn, this would save a lot more lives.” Benedict said he believes that automated systems should not

serve as a substitute for a driver. “Automated systems take away the ability of drivers to effectively communicate between one another, because they may become too involved with techno- logical devices such as laptops, tablets or phones,” he says. “It is better to communicate face-to-face.”


School buses aren’t the only vehicles that stand to gain if au- tonomous vehicles become a reality on roadways. Te case for their utility is painted in bright strokes. Tey are often touted as safer and more efficient and may perhaps serve as a solution to the pervasive driver shortage. But any case for autonomous vehicles was recently tainted

by two fatal incidents. An autonomous car operated by Uber struck and killed a woman on a street in Tempe, Arizona, and an autonomous Telsa SUV crashed into a freeway center divider and burst into flames in Mountain View, California. Despite the fact that both vehicles had emergency backup drivers behind the wheel, many saw the incidents as indicative of broader issues with autonomous vehicles. Some school officials, however, are hopeful that autonomous vehicles will soon take over. While the Uber incident raised grave concerns about auton- omous vehicles, the technology presents hope to transportation communities that see it as an emergent solution to driver shortages and the vulnerability of driver judgement. Te merits of autonomous vehicles are widely recognized despite recent in- cidents. But key concerns leave some doubtful about their use in applications such as school bus fleets. Herb Jensen is the transportation director for Jordan School District in West Jordan, Utah. “I am very optimistic about the future of autonomous vehicles,” said Jensen. “I had the chance to ride in an autonomous Tesla recently, and all I could think about was how this technology would eliminate a lot of accidents in our buses. It would prevent most accidents on the roads.”

Regulated following distances between passenger vehicles is an example of technology that is currently available. When will it be offered by school bus OEMs?

While some believe that there is no substitute for school bus

drivers, Jensen sees things differently. “Autonomous vehicles do not operate with the flawed judgment of imperfect humans,” he says. “Te sensors on the vehicle keep it in the center of the

40 School Transportation News • MAY 2018

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