WHITELAND, Ind. (WISH) — A Johnson County school district has their hands on what could be the future of school bus safety.
Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation says too many safety measures, like face recognition or cameras, cover what happens after an accident.
But a new bus given to the school district for free includes radar technology and a speaker that triggers when it senses a car coming.
“Danger!” and “Get back!” come from the speakers at a volume that riders can hear as they come down the bus steps.
The robotic voice blares from the front of Clark-Pleasant’s newest school bus to warn children that it is not safe to cross or get off the bus.
“We’ve had a lot of near misses,” said Bob Downin, transportation director for the district. “We have stop arm violations — six, seven a day. And, you know, it only takes one.”
The radar technology can track a vehicle 300 yards away in either direction, first indicating danger to riders with a beep and a light. The voice announces danger as a vehicle gets closer.
“Because it calculates it, and it will tell you way in advance. It’s all designed on speed, distance, so if a car is going 65, 75 miles an hour, it’s going to tell you way before that car gets there that that car is not going to stop,” Downin said.
The radar and speaker technology is only on the stop arm side of the bus. On the other side, sensors trigger a light to let drivers know if they’re going to hurt any kids.
“There’s a blind spot in most school buses on that side,” Downin said. “It’s hard to see. So this tells us if there’s anybody there.”
Clark-Pleasant has the only bus of its kind in Indiana. After running tests for about a month, the district has nothing but praise for the new technology.
“We’re just very thrilled with all the enhancements and the safety initiatives that we have going on, and we’re pleased to offer that to our students,” said John Venter, the district’s community engagement director.
But even this new technology can’t be 100% relied upon. The best safety feature on any bus is the driver.
“It’s going to be their responsibility to make sure that kid gets across the street even though we’ve got all these bells and whistles,” Downin said. “It doesn’t relieve the driver of any responsibility.”
According to the district, the buses should start going on sale to schools in a month or two, but they haven’t been told what price point to expect.
The district is going to wait to see how many it can get, but does not plan to replacing all 70 district buses at once. More than likely, as buses wear out, the district will replace them with the radar-equipped ones.