September is synonymous with the start of a new school year.  Like back to school shopping, back to school safety is at the forefront of parent’s minds. While USA Today reports that school bus accidents are rare, school bus safety remains a major concerns. School districts and bus companies throughout America are embracing new technology to help keep students safe. Cameras and tracking devices and apps are helping schools, bus drivers and parents monitor incidents and track students.

The Cullman County Alabama school distracted installed cameras on the outside of every bus, to combat motorists illegally passing the buses. According to  CBS 42, the mounted cameras operate like red light cameras.  When a vehicle passes the school bus –while the stop arm is out and the red lights flashing — the camera captures the driver’s license plate number. More than 1,800 Alabama motorists illegally passed school buses during the previous school year.

Georgia’s Forsythe county also plans to implement the use of stop-sign cameras.  Mike Satterfield, the school system’s new transportation director stated there were 189 instances that were documented by our drivers of vehicles illegally passing buses while stop signs were out and red lights were on, and drivers were about to have students exit or enter the bus. This was just the number of motorists that were ticketed. Satterfield suggests that as many as 34,000 drivers illegally passed school buses last year.

Forsythe is not the first county in Georgia to add stoplight cameras to its school buses. Twelve school systems in Georgia already rely on cameras to track illegal passes. Cobb county began using the cameras in 2009 after a girl was killed by a motorist illegally passing a school bus. Since the cameras have been in use, violations decreased 55%.

Florida’s Santa Rosa County and Tennessee’s Shelby and Memphis school districts are also relying on cameras to aid in preventing school bus accidents.  The plan is to use the cameras to monitor bus driver behavior and use recordings of unusual maneuvers for training purposes.  The palm-sized recorder is designed to capture short video clips when activated by unusual driving habits such as hard breaking, swerving, acceleration or excessive speeding.  These videos can be used to help drivers prevent school bus accidents.

Texas schools plan to boost safety with another tool. Numerous schools in the state are using the Smart Tag badge system to track when students board and depart a school bus. This system integrates Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology with Cloud connected tablets that allow parents and schools to access real-time information on students who ride the school’s buses. “This system tracks attendance and informs a driver and student that they are loading on the correct bus and exiting at the right bus stop. Additionally, if the bus breaks down, it triggers the need for a backup bus to come and retrieve students. It also provides 2-minute warning communication to parents that the bus is nearing the student’s bus stop,” Karen Permetti, chief communications officer at Midlothian ISD tells FOX Business.

More products like Smart Badge are in development. RFID Journal recently reported that Zonar systems is also in the process of releasing an RFID tracker. The Z pass system will consist of low-frequency RFID badges, a high-frequency reader with a GPS unit, camera, and cellular functionality.  The unit itself will be mounted on the bus’s dashboard. According to Kevin Mest, Zonar’s senior VP and general manager of passenger services, Z pass transmits read data to software on Zonar’s own hosted server, which authorized parties can then access via a password protected portal. Zonar also offers a non-RFID option that consist of a sensor that counts the number of riders in a school bus.

Durham School Services transports more than American 1,000,000 students daily. Many school districts throughout the United States use the Durham Bus Tracker to track a bus’s location.  James Bagby, director of transportation for Durham School Services in Santa Rosa County told Pensacola News Journal  “The app and website tracks buses traveling to schools in the mornings and back home in the afternoon. It allows parents to see their child’s current school bus location, in nearly live time, and information about the route, including the estimated arrival time at home” said James Bagby, director of transportation for Durham School Services in Santa Rosa County. The Durham Bus Tracker also gives parents the options to view multiple stops along the route and scheduled arrival times for each stop. Parents can also can track different buses simultaneously.

We’re living in the age of using cameras to capture inappropriate behavior by airline officials, track the location of our trains, and locate our missing phones. It’s no surprise that school and transportation officials plan to use the same technology to improve school bus safety. Whether it’s using cameras to help prevent school bus accidents, or RFID and GPS tools to track that students boarded the correct bus at the correct stop, technology may be the key to ensuring a safe school year.

Posted by Legal Lookout Editor