New technology helps avoid bus-pedestrian crashes

By Mary Ebeling

A simple Google search on “pedestrian transit bus collisions” yields dozens of results, showing these tragedies are all too common. Many of the crashes involve left-turning bus operators reporting not seeing pedestrians in the crosswalk. A new warning system being tested in Washington State may help avoid these crashes.

Although bus operators undergo rigorous safety training and learn techniques to spot pedestrians and other hazards, the current system is not perfect. A blind spot on the driver’s side of a transit bus results from the support pillar and the location of the rear-view mirror. This spot has been implicated in many collisions between left-turning buses and pedestrians legally crossing the street.

The Amalgamated Transit Union calls this a “fatal bus design.” Moving the mirrors is inexpensive and simple and many agencies like King County (Seattle, WA) Metro and Madison (WI) Metro have already made this change. Drivers also learn a procedure called “rock and roll” where the driver shifts their body in order to look around the left and right side mirrors.

To date there has not been a technological fix to aid operators. Transit agencies in Washington State are working with new technology developed by the firm Mobileye that detects the presence of pedestrians and warns the bus driver before a crash occurs. Information from this test can help improve bus safety nationwide.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.