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How technology is making school buses safer

How technology is making school buses safer
Ensuring the safety of the millions of children that ride school buses daily is a top priority. New and more advanced technologies are helping school districts protect students both on and off the bus.
Ensuring the safety of the millions of children that ride school buses daily is a top priority. New and more advanced technologies are helping school districts protect students both on and off the bus.

School buses are one of the safest modes of transportation on the road. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to arrive safely at school if traveling by school bus rather than by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Even so, recent school bus accidents, such as the 2016 Chattanooga, Tennessee, bus crash that resulted in the deaths of six students have highlighted the need for stronger safety measures. 

Today, a combination of public awareness, driver and student bus safety training, and installation of integrated onboard safety technologies are essential for modern school bus safety management, according to Justin Malcolm, Director of Product Management for Safe Fleet. By deploying a combination of different safety solutions, school buses across the U.S. can better ensure the safety of the precious cargo they transport.

Using cameras and GPS tracking

Nowadays there are many different types of safety and security solutions for school buses. Cameras are a common safety measure, and in the past have mostly been installed inside buses to monitor and keep track of what is happening aboard. However, advancements in camera technology and accompanying software can now offer school districts real-time video footage of what is happening both outside and inside the bus. This is important since students are most vulnerable during the loading and unloading process. 
Justin Malcolm, Director of
Product Management,
Safe Fleet

While the deployment of stop arms and crossing arms have helped reduce student injuries and fatalities over the years, implementing stop arm cameras on the outside of the bus is helping penalize drivers overtaking stopped school buses.

“Stop-arm cameras track any illegal passing and some states allow districts to use these cameras to issue tickets to those drivers,” said Gene Ballard, Smart Bus Program Manager at Kajeet. “Rearview or backup cameras provide drivers another point of reference to ensure there are no pedestrians walking behind the school bus. Additionally, bus drivers have a silent alarm or panic button, which they can press to alert their transportation department of an issue or emergency on their school bus,” he added.

Leslie Kilgore, VP of Engineering at Thomas Built Buses (TBB), explained how using a 360-degree camera, such as TBB’s PV360, could provide a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the exterior of the bus. “Unlike other cameras in the market that provide images on split screens, the PV360 camera shows full visibility all the way around the bus with screens that are stitched together to create one image,” she said. The PV360 uses four cameras to provide bus drivers with real-time video images of everything that is happening outside the bus, without constantly switching views. “If the driver needs a closer look, he or she can toggle between cameras for a closer look. This technology is especially important since most accidents involving a school bus happen outside the bus.”

GPS tracking is another popular solution used for school bus safety. Through GPS tracking, school districts can know the exact location of all buses in its fleet. “GPS technology also provides speed reports, such as the posted speed vs. the actual bus speed. So if bus drivers are speeding, transportation departments can now see who is speeding, where they were speeding, and by how much,” Ballard explained.

Installing GPS telematics units also provides school transport managers with important information ranging from real-time bus location; school bus driver’s driving behavior; geofencing alerts when vehicles exit and enter predefined areas or routes; and maintenance, according to Morgan Minster, Marketing Manager at Wireless Links.

How Wi-Fi changed the game

Aside from improved camera and GPS telematics technology, companies have developed a wide variety of solutions to enhance school bus safety. Much of this development has been brought on and made possible by the increased availability of Wi-Fi networks and the overall IoT revolution.

“Technology is bringing more and more safety solutions to the school bus. The first solution to bring school buses into the 21st century is internet access,” Ballard said. “As school buses become well-connected vehicles, there needs to be a factor that ties all of the technology together. And that connecting piece is internet access. With Wi-Fi on the school bus, districts get the access they need to keep moving forward in the connected world while saving money and expanding their capabilities to integrate any Wi-Fi enabled solutions.”

Kilgore observed, “Cellular data and Wi-Fi has enabled apps to function and to be accessible. In addition, cellular data also enables some technologies like onboard telematics to received over-the-air updates much like a standard computer update. This saves the fleet managers and technicians time and money and makes the school bus safer overall by allowing communication with the transportation department.”
Gene Ballard,
Smart Bus Program
Manager at Kajeet

Malcolm noted that adoption of live streaming, which offers the ability to tap into installed video cameras to assess onboard emergencies, has been hampered by the high costs of cellular data plans. “Deployments of mobile Wi-Fi will help reduce the adoption barriers to live video streaming, by sharing data plan costs across applications.”

Additionally, filtered Wi-Fi — meaning students can only access educational, safe sites — on school buses allows students to focus on their homework or educational games, which keeps them entertained and reduces the chances of fighting, according to Ballard. “They won’t be spending their time on social media or watching TV. And students can gain an additional 20 days of instructional time with Wi-Fi on their school bus,” he explained.
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