One of the biggest challenges in passenger transport, particularly in urban areas, is litigation.
David Butcher, the vice president of GO Riteway, which operates 900 school buses in Wisconsin, describes the situation this way: “In Milwaukee, as with many urban areas, everybody runs red lights, and there are a lot of accidents. The number of crashes that turn into lawsuits with ambulance chasers is relatively high. On top of that, we have kids to protect. On a school bus, the potential for injury is far greater for kids than for operators.”
In addition, the general public doesn’t understand how to drive around school buses, Butcher said. “They get careless. They don’t stop when the bus’s red lights are flashing. Believe it or not, I don’t think people know that they’re required to stop in that situation.”
Butcher made his comments in the days leading up to School Bus Safety Week (Oct. 16-20). Statistics from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services show just how necessary School Bus Safety Week is. On Aug. 30, the association reported that school buses were passed illegally 78,239 times in a single day, with 30 of 50 states reporting. More than 800 of those violations occurred in Wisconsin, where GO Rightway operates. Passing a school bus illegally can lead to near-misses, or worse.
“These numbers tell us that School Bus Safety Week is an important reminder for people to be cautious when driving around school buses and kids,” Butcher said.
Concern for safety is a top reason why many commercial transportation companies deploy video cameras on their vehicles to better document what exactly occurred. As early adopters of on-board cameras, many transit companies have installed what was once considered cutting-edge technology: closed-caption television (CCTV) cameras that recorded footage directly on hard drives.
As per procedure, Butcher recently went to retrieve a hard drive from a bus that had been involved in a collision, hoping to see footage of the incident. Instead, he found that nothing had been recorded. The hard drive had crashed, and there was no back-up system.
“With hard drives, they crash. They don’t get plugged back in properly. They go missing. So many things can go wrong with hard drives,” he said. “It can be a nightmare.”
Butcher’s company tested Lytx technology on four school buses to see how it stacked up.
The upshot? “I wish I could have this in every single one of our vehicles,” Butcher said. “We have live feeds. The browsing feature is web-based, cloud-based and backed up. It makes it so easy to use. The other systems, you have to physically remove the hard drive, take it into the office, plug it in, and download the video.”
Although the program has not yet captured any major incidents for his company, Butcher already can see how he could use the system to respond more quickly and efficiently if something does happen.
“Let’s say a principal calls me and says, ‘Tiffany said Johnny smacked her today on the bus. Can you give me footage of that so I can see what happened?’ I can look up which bus the kids were on, when the kids were picked up and dropped off, and I call up that video right away. I don't have to spend three hours locating the bus, pulling the hard drive, and watch hours of video to get to the clip I need. It’s so much faster.”