The issue of autonomous vehicles advanced significantly under the Obama administration through the issuance of guidance and the formation of an advisory committee. The Trump administration appears supportive of those efforts. Meanwhile, states have progressed at their own rates, approving their own laws and regulations as they see fit.
The incorporation of automated vehicles into our nation’s transportation system is of great interest and great concern to the school transportation industry. While we welcome the growth of automated technologies and all that such advancements could bring to the transportation sector, we also remain very focused on the safety of the nation’s schoolchildren. Therefore, our attention on this issue as an industry must be the point at which automated vehicles traveling on the nation’s roads interact with school buses.
Any autonomous vehicle technology must be designed with the ability to recognize all school transportation vehicles, many of which are the traditional yellow school bus, but some of which are regular vehicles serving in a school transportation capacity.
The benefits of [vehicle-to-vehicle] technology in addressing the illegal passing of stopped school buses, or vehicles running into stopped school buses, are vast and should be embraced by the industry.
Also, the dynamic operating nature of the school bus must be fully recognized. For example, lights are activated and stop arms are deployed on school buses at the time of a stop, but neither technology is activated at all times. When not activated, school buses travel with the stop sign retracted, but the sign remains visible on the side of the vehicle. Having the ability to recognize school transportation vehicles — regardless of their appearance or color — and their unique and dynamic operating environment is
critical to the safety of all children.
In addition, the differences in school transportation in busy urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas, where school transportation typically involves highway travel, must also be recognized. School buses are obviously not the only commercial vehicles traveling through areas where schoolchildren live, but they are the only vehicles generally requiring all drivers to stop when they are stopped.
While the unique operating environment of the school transportation industry must be considered in the development of this technology, we must also recognize the great benefit and opportunity this technology brings. If vehicle-to-vehicle technology, for example, is developed properly and integrated on all vehicles, passenger and commercial, it could allow school buses to signal both the infrastructure and approaching vehicles that the school bus is in the process of loading or unloading on the roadway ahead, which could then trigger a warning to the driver of the approaching vehicles to slow down and stop, or it could stop them entirely if necessary. The benefits of this technology in addressing the illegal passing of stopped school buses, or vehicles running into stopped school buses, are vast and should be embraced by the industry.
While this issue continues to develop and advance, NSTA will continue to follow along closely and engage where possible to advocate for the yellow school bus and the nation’s children who ride it every day. They deserve no less.