Six years ago my city experienced the most tragic event in the history of its school bus transportation, when six Woodmore Elementary students died in a bus crash, and dozens of others were injured.
The 24-year old bus driver was later convicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide and reckless aggravated assault. In the aftermath, school officials and the bus transportation companies pledged to step up safety measures. We are now seeing the results of those improvements.
Among the most significant is a driver tracking system. Now, every driver is monitored. The programs are called Mobile Manager, and Driver Score.
If a bus is being driven too fast or in a reckless manner, “Headquarters” gets the alert. The transportation manager told me, “I can pull a speed report, and see the exact block and the exact speed. So if there’s a bus speeding on a certain road at a certain time, I can zoom in and see the bus, and see how fast they are going.”
From sudden braking, to quick acceleration, to speeding, officials don’t have to wait for a parent or student complaint. It’s visible in real time, and recorded permanently on the app. What once may have been considered an invasion of privacy has improved the skills of every bus driver.
The drivers have peace of mind knowing that if they haven’t done anything wrong, the video and data will prove it. In fact, many use the constant monitoring to prove they’re obeying the law. It’s almost a competition for bragging rights. Their scores are posted internally, and they all want to be five-star drivers.
Now in its second year, the statistics show the program is working. Accidents are down 40 percent, and complaints from other motorists are down as well. When safety rules are broken, there are consequences. Bus drivers who repeatedly fail to comply are identified and replaced. “We may have other positions for them, but some people are just not meant to be bus drivers,” the manager told me.
There is no doubt among the bus transportation supervisors that the monitoring program is improving safety, and saving lives. When drivers are observed having difficulty merging into traffic, braking smoothly, or adjusting to a reduced speed zone, they are coached much like an athlete who can’t field a ground ball. Eventually, they do their job better.
Knowing that similar technology is affordable and available for almost all of us on the highways, I am amazed that insurance companies and law enforcement agencies haven’t put this to good use.
As close as our smartphone, is a surefire way to reduce auto accidents and prevent a considerable amount of fatalities.
Your phone can already check your heart rate, your blood pressure, and how many steps you take each day. It can also track your driving habits. Free apps can track your location, your speed, your acceleration and braking, and the time of day you drive.
If you have a mapping app like Waze, your phone knows where you are, and can help you avoid a traffic jam. In recent years, insurance companies have figured out that your phone’s GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope can help them determine if you are a safe driver. The current plague of distracted driving is resulting in more rear-end crashes. Insurers know that if you are slamming on the brakes frequently, you aren’t paying attention.
What if all of us, every time we start our car, knew that our insurance company had the authority to penalize us for dangerous driving? How many injuries and deaths would this prevent?
I know many Americans would oppose this idea. Perhaps they should speak to victims of dangerous drivers. We all know someone who has lost a loved one, or has suffered injuries due to the reckless driving of others. Does it alarm you that our cars are equipped with more safety features than ever, yet traffic fatalities continue to increase?
Are we really serious about slowing down, and saving lives? Are we willing for our behavior to be monitored, like in elementary school? If it means potentially saving the lives of our children and grandchildren, I don’t know how anyone could say no. What about you?
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “Hello Chattanooga” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com.