Thousands of miles and driver hours in Cullman County demonstrate the real-world value of electronic stability control and collision mitigation.School bus drivers in Cullman County cover more than 4,000 miles daily, with some routes taking nearly an hour just one way. “We’re a farming community,” says Jeff Harper, transportation director for Cullman County Schools. “Good, hard-working folks I’m very proud to work with every day.”
With more than 100 drivers navigating such a wide territory, there’s always the potential for an accident. That’s one reason the district was first in the state to purchase buses with the Bendix® ESP® Electronic Stability Program and Bendix Wingman Advanced Collision Mitigation.
CLOSE CALL AT MALFUNCTION JUNCTION
A driver for the district, Ty Watwood, pays close attention to external factors like weather conditions, construction and distracted drivers. But it was a major close call that made him really appreciate the safety technology on the bus.
On an early spring morning, Watwood was driving students and teachers to Birmingham on a field trip. Although the bus was noisy with conversation, Watwood increased his focus as he approached “Malfunction Junction,” one of the busiest and most accident-prone highway exchanges in the state.
“Sure enough that morning, right as we were getting to that interchange, a car comes around me and cuts me off,”he remembers. “As soon as the car got in my lane, the collision mitigation technology took over.
“There was a beeping sound, and it applied the brakes quicker than I could. Not a complete stop, but enough to get us out of harm’s way. It was a quick scare for me, the kids and the teachers, but in a few seconds I got my bearings and we moved on.”
No one was hurt, and amidst cheers and high-fives, Watwood explained to the students and teachers what happened. “That particular day was just like any other day if you’re a bus driver. You’re taking students on a field trip. On that day, I was thankful that technology was on that bus,” he says.
LOW MAINTENANCE, LOW COSTS
Although he’s a big supporter now, Harper was initially skeptical about the district’s purchase of buses with the Electronic Stability Program and Wingman Collision Mitigation. The near-miss in Birmingham changed his mind. Since then, he’s observed additional benefits of the technology.
“We can’t put a price tag on a child. So, my decision has got to be for the safety of those children,” he says.
At the same time, the price tag isn’t as high as he thought it would be. In fact, he realized that adding the technology is relatively inexpensive compared to other options available on school buses.
“TRANSPORTATION DIRECTORS HAVE TO DECIDE WHAT OPTIONS THEY PURCHASE. COLLISION MITIGATION IS ONE OF THE FIRST CHOICES I’D MAKE ABOVE ANY OTHER OPTIONS ON OUR SCHOOL BUSES.”
“Anytime we introduce new technology on our buses there’s always the possibility we could get hit on maintenance,” he says. “I was pleasantly surprised that in the 12 months we’ve had this, I have not spent a dime on this system. There has been no maintenance cost.”
He also notes that fewer accidents help save money as well. “It’s a fact that fender benders occur. Even if no one gets hurt, it costs money to make repairs. So we feel like this is actually going to cut our costs on what we’ve paid for accidents in the past.”
Since Cullman first purchased IC buses with the new technology, the state of Alabama approved the district’s purchase of Wingman Fusion the most advanced system from Bendix which employs advanced camera technology that’s integrated with a radar.
At first, the state thought that cameras might block the driver’s field of vision, but since seeing the system in action, state inspectors have changed their position.
“I think seeing is believing on this system,” says Harper. “It enabled us to bring our transportation directors and our state inspectors together in one place and actually look how this system operated. And once they saw this, it’s a no-brainer.”