September 8, 2022

NYC looks at tech to restrict speeds on school buses to curb reckless operators

City officials are looking into new safety technology to force lead-footed school bus drivers to slow their roll.

As part of a program to convert the school bus fleet to electric by 2035, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services is seeking ways to make buses safer — and that could include technology to limit their speeds.

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As children returned for the new schoolyear on Thursday, DCAS announced a the launch of a study with the city Department of Education and U.S. Department of Transportation to re-think the buses’ safety and design features.

Besides preventing riders from speeding, the study will also look into technology that automatically applies a bus’s brakes when it’s moving recklessly, said Keith Kerman, deputy commissioner of fleet management at DCAS.

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“It’s a real opportunity with electrification to redesign the school bus and to redesign vehicles in general,” said Kerman. “It’s not just emissions capacity. It’s a chance to rethink how you build this truck in the first place.”

Kerman and city officials will need to work with bus manufacturers to implement the safety features they seek — as well as the private companies that operate the city’s 10,700 school buses.

The push for speed control comes a year after the Daily News exposed major safety problems within the city’s school bus fleet, finding that roughly two-thirds of them had been ticketed by speed and red light cameras. Thousands of those tickets were issued in zones near schools.

At least nine people have been killed by city school buses in crashes since 2014, when former Mayor de Blasio took office and launched his Vision Zero program with the goal of reducing traffic deaths.

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The Education Department and private operators over the last year have rolled out technology called “telematics” on school buses that record drivers’ behavior behind the wheel.

The technology has helped reduce egregious speeding by 60%, Kerman said. But he hopes that kind of recklessness won’t even be possible in 13 years.

Speed control isn’t the only safety feature officials will look at in the study. Kerman said future electric school buses should have their transmissions and engines underneath the carriage, giving drivers more visibility on the streets below.

“A normal heighted driver cannot see the ground for 25 or 30 feet [in front of them],” said Kerman. “That is an enormous safety risk.”

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Other safety features are also being looked at for school buses that are currently on the road — such as cameras that give drivers more visibility of their surroundings and speakers that make announcements when buses are turning.

“We want it to be the safest possible design,” Kerman said of the city’s school bus fleet. “We have to move the marketplace at the manufacturing level, and we have to partner with the school bus companies to let them know this is the direction we’re going.”

With Michael Elsen-Rooney

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