crash near Chattanooga, Tennessee, that killed six students and injured two dozen others. “Tat was the darkest day in our history,” Gary Waits, CEO of NELLC’s student transportation division, told School T News last month.


echnological innovations are rolling out at a rapid rate. Often, they happen organically as a potential solution to a challenge or perceived crisis. And other times, they result from a tragedy, such as the Nov. 16, 2016 school bus


Te school bus company responded in the crash aftermath and amid allegations that driver Johnthony Walker was speeding, using a cell phone (which he denied at the trial), and was not even on his correct route at the time of the incident. Tose allegations later turned into a conviction and a four-year prison sentence that was still under appeal at this writing. Durham School Services, a division of Na- tional Express, LLC. (NELLC), launched initiatives to better moni- tor its bus drivers, plus respond to and track service complaints. Waits said the DriveCam system from Lytx had been installed on 7,400 Durham school buses nationwide to monitor the be- havior of drivers and road conditions, with the remaining 8,900 Durham buses scheduled to be equipped by the end of this year. By next year, NELLC will implement DriveCam throughout its entire North American operations, including Petermann Bus, Stock Transportation and various local subsidiaries. Additionally, the company is online nationwide with its BusRe-

port product, to improve transparency on responding to bus driver complaints and to coach the drivers on avoiding future mishaps. “We’re leading the industry with this state-of-the-art technology to keep our drivers, motorists and pedestrians safe in the communi- ties we serve,” Waits said. Together, NELLC’s transport companies operate 22,000 school buses, serving more than 500 school districts in 33 states and three Canadian provinces. Te company’s operations transport over 1.2 million students daily. Waits said its DriveCam monitoring system is an approach that

represents a “coaching opportunity” between the company’s safety trainers and drivers. He said that both correction and praise are necessary to arrive at the best outcome.

Te system is comprised of a windshield-mounted camera pointed at the driver, as well as at the road in front of the bus, to simultaneously monitor operator behavior and traffic conditions. It relies on G-force sensors to flag unusual driving events, such as hard braking, sudden swerves or rapid changes in speed. In these cases, a 12-second video clip is recorded from four seconds before the event until eight seconds after, Waits explained. Tat content is then uploaded wirelessly to the Lytx network for management to review, score and develop a coaching strategy to address the issue and prevent its recurrence. Te cloud-based BusReport, meanwhile, is a turn-key, web- based platform that logs real-time feedback, including service recognition, requests, questions, complaints, or simply concerns from parents, the public and school administrators. Concerns are submitted via or a toll-free number that

is displayed on the back of the school buses, except in any states where the additional lettering is not allowed. is designed to accurately record the person’s feedback in real time, generate a timely response for that per- son, and provide for a means to improve school bus performance. It accepts and tracks feedback from any source. Waits told School Transportation News that, “We make sure that responses are timely.”

Bob Ramsdell was appointed to the newly created position of chief safety officer in the months following the Chattanooga crash. He now oversees the BusReport system, as well as the entire compliance department. Waits added that the group is de- veloping a driver report card, to better document the full scope of driver performance, based on the DriveCam and Bus Report data being captured. “Safety is our top commitment, as we continue to evaluate any technologies that make our drivers the safest on the road,” he said. Tis includes ongoing collaboration with vendors on key technologies and performance areas. Tose areas are for collision avoidance systems, electronic stability controls and lap-shoulder seat belts, which the National Transportation Safety Board recom- mended in May as part of its final investigation into the Chatta- nooga crash. “Expect a lot more to come on this,” Waits added. He also said Durham has increased its efforts to reinforce its

zero-tolerance policy on unsafe driver cell phone usage. Walker was also convicted of using a cell phone while behind the wheel, and the NTSB concluded that it contributed to the crash. Tose and related safety efforts all go toward maximizing

efforts and procedures to make the relationships with each school board the best possible. In the case of Chattanooga, Waits said that Durham’s innovations have been well-received by Hamilton County Schools, which NTSB also said was at fault for the crash, for failing to provide necessary contractor oversight. “We have a strong relationship with Hamilton County,” Waits concluded.

CONTRACTORS WEIGH IN ON TECHNOLOGY Te latest NTSB recommendations didn’t come as a surprise

to Apple Bus Company, a growing contractor with 1,300 employ- ees and operations in five states, stretching from the midwest to Alaska. “My feeling for the last few years has been that most of the (NTSB) recommendations … were only a matter of time before they became commonplace or required of school bus operators,” Executive VP Reid Oyster told School Transportation News. “Tings like crash avoidance technology and seat belts have been talked about for years,” he commented. “Although school buses are already the safest mode of transportation on the road, these recom- mendations by NTSB are intended to make our buses even safer.” He added that although lap-shoulder seat belts remain a hotly-de-

bated item in the industry, designs have improved and implementa- tion costs have eased. “(Tat) tends to be a precursor to mass imple- mentation, which we will likely see in the near future,” he observed. Despite some lingering bad press, Oyster said the media has become better educated on school bus safety in most of the markets the 39

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