From 1975 to 1984, an average of 16 school bus occupant fatalities per year occurred in the United States, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2016 report. From 2005 to 2016, the average was nine per year. That’s a substantial and worthy improvement – but Bendix and other members of the school bus industry still think a single school bus accident is one too many: Parents and kids across North America deserve to feel safe when it comes to bus riding, which is why we continue to work to help put drivers and passengers in safer buses every day.

Oct. 22-26 marks National School Bus Safety Week – a public education program promoting school bus safety that’s sponsored by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) – which means now’s a good time to look at what’s going into efforts to build safer school buses.

As a bit of background, school buses are already the safest form of school transportation – students are about 70 times more likely to arrive to school safely by school bus versus traveling by car, according to the American School Bus Council – and from the wheels up, both current and emerging technologies can help make them even more so.

School Bus Fleets Are Turning to Air Disc Brakes in Greater Numbers

Honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most people never really think about what kind of brakes are on their kids’ school buses – but among school bus fleets, there is an awareness shift underway with the increasing adoption of air disc brakes rather than the foundation drum brakes that have been the norm for decades.

Disc brakes not only provide significantly shorter stopping distances than drums, but they also offer a car-like feel that offers consistently straight, stable stops, and little to no brake fade. (Brake fade is the decrease in performance that occurs when a drum brake heats up, particularly during downhill applications or stop-and-go usage – a common scenario for a school bus route.)

North America’s major school bus manufacturers – Blue Bird Corporation, IC Bus, and Thomas Built Buses – have all begun offering air disc brakes, including the Bendix® ADB22X™. And we’ve gotten positive feedback from school districts equipping the brake, which means it’s already making a difference in safety and performance on the roads.

Stability and Collision Mitigation: Difference-Makers

Higher-level driver assistance technologies – of the sort that have quickly become commonplace in both passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles – are also finding a place in school bus fleets. Full stability (also known as electronic stability control) utilizes a system of sensors to recognize and mitigate conditions that could lead to rollover and loss of control.

Passenger cars have been incorporating stability control for years, and the technology is now mandatory on commercial vehicles. Blue Bird was the first North American school bus manufacturer to offer stability technology, making the Bendix® ESP® Electronic Stability Program full-stability system available as a factory-installed option in 2014; and this year, Navistar’s IC Bus made history, naming ESP as a standard feature on its CE Series and RE Series school buses with air brakes. The action by IC Bus is a significant event because – unlike with tractors and motorcoaches –  stability technology is not yet mandated to be standard on school buses. While rare, school buses can lose control and roll over, resulting in potentially devastating consequences.

Full-stability systems provide the necessary platform for still more advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including collision mitigation technologies such as  Bendix® Wingman® Advanced™, and our flagship Bendix® Wingman® Fusion™ system. Using a radar sensor mounted to the front of the vehicle, Wingman Advanced delivers active cruise control with braking features, along with collision mitigation technology. The system delivers both warnings and active interventions to help drivers potentially avoid rear-end collisions, or at least help reduce their severity.

Wingman Fusion integrates a forward-facing camera (powered by the Mobileye System-on-Chip EyeQ processor with state-of-the-art vision algorithms) with the radar and the vehicle’s brake system, creating a comprehensive driver assistance program.

This summer, IC Bus became the first North American school bus manufacturer to offer collision mitigation technology as a standard feature, spec’ing Bendix Wingman Advanced on its CE Series and RE Series and offering Wingman Fusion as an option on the CE Series.

Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report on two tragic bus crashes in 2016, noting in one case that full-stability technology could have assisted the driver in maintaining vehicle control and mitigated the severity of the crash by reducing the speed of the vehicle. The report also went on to recommend that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require collision avoidance systems and automatic emergency braking technologies on all new school buses, which points to the effectiveness of these systems and the real difference they can make on the roads.

In fact, Indianapolis’ WRTV recently did a story about Clark-Pleasant Schools’ pilot program using IC Bus vehicles equipped with Bendix advanced safety systems.

What’s Ahead and Why Drivers Still Matter

One emerging technology that continues to build on these integrated safety systems is electronic parking brake control. Next year, Bendix is set to launch its Intellipark® system, which will help prevent rollaway and runaway crashes by automatically setting the brakes if the driver exits the vehicle while it is not parked. Not only enhancing driver ergonomics, Intellipark uses interlocks installed in critical areas – the driver’s seat, seat belt, or cab door, for instance – to allow the park brake to be released only when an authorized driver is in full control of the vehicle. And since Intellipark is electronic, it is also positioned for integration with Wingman Fusion, enabling the use of the parking brakes to further enhance driver assistance functions.

As we look into the crystal ball, we can envision the integration of steering control and making the basic braking system more intelligent to help deliver additional safety solutions for the school bus, its drivers, and its passengers. We’re on the cusp of helping to reduce school bus crashes to nearly zero, making safe even safer.

None of these safety technologies will replace or diminish the importance of a safe school bus driver practicing safe driving habits, supported by ongoing, proactive training, of course. The goal is not to enable or encourage aggressive driving, but to provide bus drivers – who are responsible for safe vehicle operation at all times – with the best equipment available to help keep their passengers safe on the road. And we’re proud to work side-by-side with bus manufacturers to help keep every student safe from the moment they board that trusted and reliable school bus.

Bendix Blog

Technical and industry insight from OUR experts.

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