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Challenges to school bus safety and security

Challenges to school bus safety and security
There are many new and innovative technologies on the market today that are being deploying on buses to increase safety and security in and around the bus.

One of the biggest challenges school districts face when wanting to deploy new technology is budgetary. “School budgets are limited and when it comes to purchasing multiple school buses or equipping just a few buses with state-of-the-art technology, most school districts opt to purchase more buses rather than a few with the latest in safety technology,”Leslie Kilgore, VP of Engineering at Thomas Built Buses (TBB), said.  said.

“Budget is consistently a roadblock to advancing school buses with the latest technology,” Gene Ballard, Smart Bus Program Manager at Kajeet, said. To meet this challenge, Kajeet has reduced the upfront cost of its solution with a new program, SmartBus Select. “This program brings the first-year cost down to US$840. This fixed monthly rate for this all-in-one program includes: SmartBus hardware, installation kit, installation services, data plan with 4G LTE connectivity on six North American wireless carriers, and GPS services,” he explained.

Urgency, as observed by Morgan Minster, Marketing Manager at Wireless Links, is another challenge. “Although schools and districts are aware of the benefits, they are not urgent to pass the necessary budget to equip school buses with these types of technologies or they do not feel that they should invest in these solutions at the moment. This causes delays in the implementation in these solutions which is a shame as all can benefit from these types of technologies to ensure student safety.”
Morgan Minster,
Marketing Manager,
Wireless Links

Justin Malcolm, Director of Product Management for Safe Fleet, noted connectivity challenges, high cost data plans, and IT networking infrastructure knowledge as obstacles preventing faster adoption of newer technologies. “Also with the proliferation of data from all these technologies, school administrators are overwhelmed by system operations and data analysis,” he added.

Seon, a Safe Fleet brand, has tackled these problems by offering a completely integrated out-of-the-box solution for school transportation that combines video, route operations, tracking and student ridership technology to make it easier for administrators to pull meaningful data that improves student safety. Additionally, its Certified Wireless Network Administrators can help districts architect their wireless networks to handle the demands of video transmission.

New Technologies

There are many new and innovative technologies on the market today that are being deploying on buses to increase safety and security in and around the bus.

“When developing technologies for our industry, we strive to hit the right balance, bringing to market only the innovations that make sense for the customers. In other words, the right technology at the right time.  We don’t innovate for the sake of innovating,”said Kilgore. “Instead, we try to address problems in the industry and work to make school buses safer, more efficient, easier to maintain, and to provide a lower total cost of ownership.”

Leslie Kilgore,
VP of Engineering,
Thomas Built Buses (TBB)

One such technology being developed is pedestrian detection. TBB is currently developing its own pedestrian detection solution, which will be comprised of LED ground lights on the cross-view mirrors as well as multiple radar units on the 77 GHz frequency band installed around the exterior of a Thomas Built bus. “These higher frequency radars, which are used for autonomous vehicles and high-resolution meteorological observations, will allow for more precise detection and measurement of a pedestrian or object within 10 feet of the front, back or side of the school bus. The entire traditional danger zone will be visible. When a pedestrian is detected, the system will alert the driver on an in-cabin tablet, as well as through caution lights on the cross-view mirrors,” Kilgore explained.

Safe Fleet is also working on smart pedestrian detection technologies that use a combination of video, sensors, artificial intelligence and deep learning, which will help analyze and reduce future accidents. “Safe Fleet is currently working on a number of school bus danger zone safety technologies that both improve visibility around the bus and analyze and alert both students and drivers of any hazards in the danger zone. These technologies working together will analyze whether an oncoming vehicle is likely to pass illegally, and warn students and drivers not to cross. These technologies will improve visibility and send both visual and audible alerts to drivers when motion is detected near the school bus at a stop to reduce collisions," said Malcolm.

Lane departure and collision avoidance warnings, which can alert the driver before an impending accident occurs, are also being adopted by school districts.

While technologies like collision avoidance and pedestrian detection are considered new technologies for the school bus industry, Kilgore pointed out that they are not necessarily new to the transportation industry.

A Future of smart school buses

Despite budget limitations, school buses will continue to become not only safer and more secure, but also smarter. With regulations changing to better ensure student safety, along with increased connectivity and advancements in technology, school buses are bound to become smarter — not just because of available technologies, but because student safety will demand it.
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