New radar system intends to prevent future school bus tragedies

(Photo By Russ McQuaid)

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — The young woman accused of blowing through the stop sign on a Rochester school bus and killing three children last fall goes on trial in October.

In Johnson County, Robin Hall’s Clark-Pleasant School District bus is outfitted with new technology to prevent such tragedies in the future.

“The first time that it went off it was a bicycler that set the alarm off,” she recalled. “I do a lot of housing additions, so sometimes there is a lot of cars that will pass by and run my stop arms.”

Hall’s bus is part of a pilot program to equip school vehicles with a predictive stop arm and right-hand danger zone protective systems.

“It’s an early warning system that is designed to give students pro-active notification before a stop arm violation occurs,” said Chris Akiyama of Safe Fleet, the company that has developed the technology.

“We’re using radar technology and predictive algorithms to monitor the speed and distance of an oncoming vehicle, and determine the level of threat to report to the student and driver to step back from the street.”

Inside the bus, the driver can monitor the speed of the on-coming vehicle and determine whether it’s going to run the stop sign. If a violation is imminent, a recorded announcement plays to tell the child to freeze and not step into oncoming traffic.

“It will look out up to 300 yards and detect an oncoming vehicle,” said Akiyama. “The challenge is drivers and students are becoming increasingly distracted, whether it be cell phones or tablets, to be able to understand what’s going on.”

Hall drives both elementary and high school students and said both ages of children can be distracted while getting on and off the bus.

“It is very common for the high schoolers not even to be looking at me,” she said. “They’re just looking at their phones and carrying it and even texting while they’re getting on to the bus.”

C-P Transportation Director Bob Downin said the system will help protect children before the bus even leaves school property.

“There’s a danger zone on the bus which is when you walk out the bus in that area beside the bus, it also will tell us if there’s a kid standing in that danger zone before we move on,” he said.

Downin said the district intends to outfit seven new buses with the predictive stop arm system this fall.

The system is being tried in four other districts across the country.

Akiyama said the technology can currently be integrated with video and photographic systems on buses to capture the license plate number and make and model of the vehicle violating the stop sign.

He said someday bus drivers may have the ability to kill the operation of the oncoming vehicle before it passes through the loading and off-loading zone.

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