DES MOINES, Iowa — Student detection systems are now permitted on school buses within the state following completion of a pilot program that several districts participated in.
As SBF reported last year, the pilot program to test two student detection systems was prompted by a 2011 danger zone accident in which Justin Bradfield was killed. The Smile BIG Foundation was created after Bradfield’s death, and one of the foundation’s goals was to have yellow buses in the state equipped with sensors to detect students in blind spots.
The systems tested were the Student Detection System from Rostra Precision Controls Inc. and SafeZone from National Patent Analytical Systems Inc. The Iowa Department of Education’s Office of School Transportation oversaw the pilot program.
In an announcement released on Wednesday detailing the outcome of the pilot program, Max Christensen, executive officer, school transportation, Iowa Department of Education, said that while there are subtle differences between the two tested systems, both systems work similarly and both offer alarms/lights to notify the driver that a child may be in danger. As to differences, the SafeZone uses Doppler radar in the sensing units, while the Rostra system uses another form of sensing. Also, the SafeZone system has about half the number of sensors as the Rostra system.
Upon evaluating the participating school districts' experiences with installing and maintaining both systems and how they actually worked, the announcement states that "while some potential concerns involving installation, customer service, sensor sensitivity/adjustment, cost and maintenance were found, the systems generally performed as designed. Proper and professional installation and sensor settings seem to be the key to making the systems successful."
Christensen told SBF that the Department of Education's Maintenance & Inspection Advisory Council has determined that these types of systems should be allowed as an option on school buses in Iowa, but they're not required.
“We’ve also decided to not adopt really strict technological criteria for the systems, but just allow the use of sensor-driven and/or video-based student detection systems,” Christensen said, “thus not locking ourselves into a very strict technology base that would require additional piloting and testing should other types of newer, and possibly better, technology become available.”
Christensen said this could also open the field to new ideas in developing more advanced and better designs for both sensors and camera technology.
Under this new development, Rostra's Student Detection System, SafeZone or any other sensor- or video-based student detection technology can be used, and Christensen said there is no specific requirement for the number of cameras or sensors on the system used.
Wednesday's announcement also addressed the potential benefit of student detection systems to schools and school districts, noting that such a system would give "extra eyes" all around the outside of the school bus to assist the school bus driver in watching for students walking or standing too close to the danger zone, which could help to save lives.