n a three-day span last fall, five children were killed while walking to or waiting for their school buses. Three of them were siblings in rural Indiana who were struck by a pickup truck as they crossed a

two-lane state highway. The incident was viewed by some as a wakeup call. For many safety advocates and industry leaders, it highlighted risks they have long been emphasizing. Since the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year,

at least 14 children have been killed and 49 injured while exiting, entering or waiting for school buses. And since 2008, about 100 children have been fatally struck, according to statistics maintained by school bus safety advocate Dick Fischer, who has logged such incidents for almost five decades. Now a wave of smart technology has arrived in the

marketplace, with the intention of increasing the safety of students getting on or off buses. Solutions include sen- sors and predictive mechanisms that trigger warnings for nearby motorists and help bus drivers avoid risks. “Clearly, we need to change our approach to school bus safety,” said Tom Brodsky, vice president of the ad- vanced technology group at Safe Fleet. “If we are to truly protect children in the danger zone, we must turn our focus to the perimeter of the bus.” Brodsky said that rolling out such technologies for school buses has been a lengthy process for the in- dustry, but new options are now available to address a long-standing problem. “Adoption of such safety technologies is slower in the school bus market than the consumer vehicle market, due to cost, and existing products not being well-adapted to the specific needs of the school bus industry,” he added. “We must also consider the length of time and rigorous

effort required to design, engineer and develop safety solutions that make use of advanced and evolving tech- nology,” Brodsky noted. That includes the “continuous loop of testing, receiving feedback, and subsequent enhance- ments, to ensure the solution delivers on safety goals in all conditions, while not adding to driver distraction.”

Smart Technology Safe Fleet makes a system with motion detectors that

are mounted on the bus and alert bus drivers to any movement in the Danger Zone, the 10-foot area that surrounds the bus. Meanwhile, bus driver blind spots can be eliminated by multiple cameras placed on the bus,

which collect images that are “woven” into one. As for illegal passing, Safe Fleet’s “predictive stop-arm” uses artificial intelligence and radar to predict when an approaching motorist is likely to not stop, based on their speed, location and whether or not they are slowing. When a violation is predicted, warning lights flash to catch the motorist’s attention, the bus driver receives a notification and an automated voice warns students to stop. Hopkins Public Schools in suburban Minneapolis re-

cently installed the predictive stop-arm for a test run on four buses. Transportation Supervisor Derrick Agate said that so far, the results are encouraging. “Our drivers think it’s phenomenal,” he said, noting

one recent incident, “We had a vehicle approaching the stop-arm. The audible went off for the students, and we think the motorist heard the audible and stopped just before hitting the stop-arm.” Verra Mobility (previously known as American Traffic

Solutions), offers options that include CrossingGuard+, a multi-faceted system that uses multiple cameras to inform bus drivers of their surroundings. The system also captures the license plates of motorists who illegally pass. The images are used to fine violators, with the idea that

this will dissuade motorists from violating the law. In states where the system is authorized, districts can receive a portion of the revenue from fines, which is supposed to be invested back into safety programs. And they can obtain the technology for free, since the fines are used to pay for installing, operating and administering the video systems, while also collecting revenue for the company. Verra Mobility said that this system is used in Texas,

Georgia, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, among others where the funding mechanism is permitted. The Indiana legislature in March passed a bus safety bill that prohibits such revenue arrangements, over concerns about third-party contracts. Agate said that Hopkins School District wants drivers

to know they are being watched and videotaped. But the district doesn’t plan to levy fines, except in cases of repeat violators, where they might turn the evidence over to law enforcement. Simpler smart options can also improve safety. For ex-

ample, the company, Gardian Angel, offers high-intensity LED lights, including a red flashing strobe, for the front of the bus. A white flood light also illuminates a path on the left side of the bus, where children will cross to and from the vehicle. 43

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