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Technology helps make school bus rides safer

One bus-safety trend that’s on the rise is the use of external video cameras to catch motorists who pass a school bus that is stopped with its lights flashing.

As students returned to school this year, many were riding buses newly equipped with cameras designed to nab dangerous drivers, buzzers intended to make sure they weren’t left on the bus at the end of the day, and others technologies designed to make their ride safer.

For instance, Fayette County, Ky., school buses are carrying a new electronic feature designed to help district officials and parents keep closer track of elementary students going to and from school.

The electronic ID system will help provide quick answers in worrisome situations when, for whatever reason, a young child fails to get off the school bus at his or her assigned stop, said Ketsy Fields, an elementary school director with the district.

“From our understanding, we’re the only school system in Kentucky that will be using it,” said Marcus Dobbs, associate transportation director for the Fayette County school system.

The ID feature uses the Zonar bus-tracking system that Fayette County Schools began installing on all its buses last school year. The GPS-based system tracks and provides information such as the location of school buses at all times and the speeds at which they’re traveling.

This year, the school district is adding a new twist to the Zonar system that also will keep track of young kids on school buses. When a child steps on the bus, the electronic system—called ZPass—will record the child’s presence and identity and send that information to a database within seconds.

When a child steps off the bus, the system also will record when and where the student left the vehicle.

If there’s any question later as to where the child is, district officials can check the system database to determine whether the child got on the proper bus and when and where he or she got off.

Parents, however, won’t be able to check the system themselves.

The system is designed for elementary students, not older children. “It gives us a permanent record to help us,” Dobbs explained. “In the past, if a parent called looking for a child who hadn’t arrived home, the school could [only] say that they put him on the right bus.”

However, “with maybe 70 kids on the bus, the driver might have trouble remembering if the child was actually there or where he got off,” Dobbs said. “Now, we can check and tell the parent, yes, he got off at his correct stop. If he hasn’t arrived home, is it possible he went to a friend’s house or something?”

As in previous years, Fayette elementary students who ride buses to school are issued color-coded bus tags that help guide them to the proper bus. This year, however, each child received a tag accompanied by a personalized radio-frequency ID card.

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