Collision Avoidance

For this engrossing discussion on how technology is transforming collision avoidance for transit agencies, BUSRide spoke with the following experts:

Uri Tamir senior director, strategic initiativesMobileye

Jerry Spearstrust operations directorMontana Association of Counties (MACo)

Joe Peppelmanvice presidentMunich Reinsurance America

Mike ScrudatoSVP, strategic innovation leaderMunich Reinsurance America

Jack Khzouzchief administrative officerNassau Inter County Express (NICE) / Transdev

Nick Aplinnational sales manager, collision avoidance systems Rosco Collision Avoidance, Inc.

Mike Cacic program manager, collision avoidance systemsRosco Collision Avoidance, Inc.

Katie Turnbullexecutive associate directorTexas A&M Transportation Institute

Why is collision avoidance such an important topic in the bus industry?

Nick Aplin: Firstly, you are dealing with a publicly-funded service that is really intended to get people within a city from point A to point B safely. With that comes an elevated level of scrutiny on the transit agency or on the transit authority.

Mike Cacic: The word “accident” is not very well received description because accident means something isn’t preventable, it just somehow “happens” – and that’s not how transit collisions are viewed. They are considered crashes because of the public role and the public service aspect. The public isn’t really concerned with who’s at fault. They are concerned with making sure it doesn’t happen again.

That’s always the big question that these agencies are facing when these incidents occur. What can you do to not have this happen again? That’s where applying technology comes into play. That’s the only way we are going to get to a higher level of safety. That’s the environment we are in right now. The public is demanding that if the technology is out there, agencies apply it.

Katie Turnbull: Transit agencies are concerned with the safe operation of all transportation modes – buses, pedestrians and bicyclists as well as, in a campus setting, and skateboarders. Technology plays a crucial role in protecting all of those people from collisions with motor vehicles, and it’s an important aspect of our entire industry.

Uri Tamir: The transit industry faces specific challenges, such as large blind spots for the vehicles, unique driving maneuvers like approaching crowded bus stops, and the difficulty of driving long vehicles in urban environments. More than that, our roads are getting more dangerous over the years. This increase danger is not limited to highways. Urban drivers, including bus drivers, are facing an increasing number of dangerous situations as cities become more congested and pedestrians and drivers are more distracted by technologies like cell phones. In 2015 alone, U.S. transit properties reported 4,647 collisions, 16,723 injuries and 100 fatalities. That’s the bad news. The good news is that collision avoidance technology is now available for mass transit that empowers bus drivers to be more aware of their environment and avoid potential collisions. Research has found that our collision avoidance system for mass transit, Shield+, has the potential to reduce vehicle and pedestrian claims by over 58 percent.

Jerry Spears: Technology will reduce the misery index. Collision avoidance technology will bring a heightened awareness and create a greater sense of safety with pedestrians crossing the street.

In Washington State, our study confirmed that drivers with collision avoidance alerts had less driving incidents than those with no alerts. That translates into less insurance claims, less hospital stays and, ultimately, lower insurance rates.

Joe Peppelman: Collision avoidance and bus safety have become such an important topic because of the increase in accidents that put drivers, passengers, other vehicles and pedestrians at risk.

There are many issues leading to the increase in the frequency of accidents:

• Distracted driving

• Lower gas prices leading to higher road density

• Increase in miles driven

• Inexperienced drivers

While the frequency of accidents has risen, the more significant problem for the transportation and the insurance industries is the rise in the severity of these accidents and their associated costs, which are driven primarily by significant injury/death, aggressive attorney activity and rising medical costs.

There is not much the bus industry can control with regards to medical costs or congested roads, which is why collision avoidance is so important. Many accidents can be addressed through collision avoidance technology. Advanced GPS/Telematics and on-board camera systems are just a few examples of newer technologies that the bus industry is utilizing to effect frequency and ultimately severity issues. Since claim severities may continue to rise, reducing the frequency of these accidents is a more viable solution to help correct the overall trends being seen across the industry.

defocus view of city night.

Jack Khzouz: Obviously, any time we work with a municipality, passengers and with residents in the communities we serve, sharing the road is extremely important. To do that safely and responsibly, requires a lot of diligence, training and continued perseverance.

That’s part of gaining the public’s trust and ensuring that transit has a space on the roads going forward. We happen to work in a very congested area here in Nassau County, NY. Fifty percent of our trips end in Jamaica, Queens, and it’s extremely busy there. We’re always looking for ways to increase our safety performance and be better neighbors. Operating a safe transit system is the baseline for all of that.

What constitutes a major collision? What constitutes a minor collision? How do they affect bus operators from a financial, physical, public relations and morale standpoint?

Peppelman: There is really no such thing as a minor collision when it comes to a bus collision for those directly involved…from the bus owners and operators to the community and the insurance carriers. Even a “minor” fender bender causes a significant disruption in the bus operators’ business. For example:

• This will be a major inconvenience to your customers, at least for that day, as the bus will clearly be off schedule. Depending on the damage, the size of the fleet, and many other factors, the schedule for the route could be thrown off for days or weeks.

• There really is no such thing as an inexpensive claim anymore; buses are expensive and technology-laden vehicles. Most accidents include some damage to the vehicle’s computer system—bringing repair costs far beyond those needed to fix the cosmetic damage to a fender.

• Public relations and morale will obviously suffer any time there’s an accident. Seeing a damaged bus on the side of the road after a collision can certainly weaken public confidence in bus transportation, regardless of who was at fault. An increase in any collisions could directly lead to a decrease in ridership.

Clearly, more severe collisions involving significant injuries or loss of life would magnify all the issues identified above, and unfortunately, we are seeing more and more severe injuries.

Turnbull: The vision for all agencies should be zero incidents – a total elimination of fatalities and injuries.

Khzouz: Any pedestrian interaction, whether it be a non-injury or a significant incident is considered a major collision.  We take every event as a severe incident and act accordingly.

On the broad spectrum of collision, we look at everything from mirror dings all the way up to severe front-end collisions as issues. Those are the kind of issues we deal with most of the time. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it tends to be relatively minor with no injuries, very minor damage and very little effects on the operation. We train to avoid even the most minor issues.

As far as the impact on the organization, any time we have any type of pedestrian interaction, all employees feel it. We fully review the incident, reviewing data, training and the specifics of the situation. We take it very seriously. Because we are always looking for continuous improvement in our performance, those strikes we take extremely personally.

Spears: No one wants to handle these claims. They are awful. The transit operator never really recovers from these accidents. From my 18 years in the industry, I can tell you they never really get back to where they were before.

Also, it has a serious effect on the bottom line. Money is valuable, and it can be repurposed for other things rather than dealing with the aftermath of the tragic accident.

In your own agencies (or client agencies) what steps have you taken to mitigate collisions? What have been the most effective at reinforcing safety and curtailing damage?

Cacic: The best practice for integration of this type of technology is in the training arena. It starts with the operator training and then understanding how to apply the technology and understanding how the technology works for them.

Aplin: The Mobileye Shield+ technology is the most innovative active safety equipment available to the transit industry. The educational process, from operators to maintenance staff to ITS to management to the executive suite is robust, because we not just selling a piece of equipment – we are educating every layer of an organization and functionally restructuring how they work together and communicate.

Spears: A lot of the transit operator community is people over 50. How do you communicate the introduction of this technology to that ecosystem? You see that across the board with new safety technology in regular cars too – introducing disruptive technology to an established arena.

It’s an opportunity and challenge.

Tamir: The information gathered from the Shield+ system can be a tremendous benefit for both transit authorities and cities. Transit systems can use the data to address safety issues along their bus routes.

The use of the data can vary, from better driver training to a more accurate safety score to the hotspots map that allows cities to identify infrastructure deficiencies.

And in order to get the most out of collision avoidance systems, transit systems must involve the bus operators. Driver training and education is always a key part of any technology integration. Engage your drivers and their union. Know that training does not end with familiarizing the driver with the collision avoidance system. They need to understand the purpose of technologies like Shield+ is to help drivers and passengers get safely from point A to point B. This technology does not replace safe driving habits. 

Turnbull: In our campus environment, we have a lot of young drivers with less experience. Training of that group versus the older drivers might be slightly different. Feedback here on Mobileye Shield+ system has been very positive among the drivers.

The ability to identify “hotspots,” or places of high incidence occurrence, with Shield+ really allows us to look at potentially dangerous situations and identify whether or not infrastructure improvements might reduce collisions.

Also, focus on user groups. It’s education – outreach to pedestrians, schools, bicyclists. Make sure they understand that they have a responsibility too, and not to be distracted looking at their cell phones as they’re walking across the street or texting as they are riding their bike. People should know to look out for themselves, to a degree.

Peppelman: There are many reliable loss control methods that bus operators have used for years such as proper background checks, motor vehicle record reviews, and driver training. But the critical, and often time-consuming step, is ensuring that these policies are enforced and kept up to date. We have seen significant losses from good clients who have strong policies and procedures in place when a driver with a poor MVR slipped through the cracks. Some clients have simply ignored their own rules, caving in to the pressure of high turnover and the need to keep buses on the road however possible. Meanwhile, budgetary pressures may lead to a reduction in maintenance standards, but the results can be costly. In 2016, a jury awarded defendants $26 million when it found a trucking company liable for a 2011 accident resulting from balding tires that needed to be replaced.

Today’s use of new technologies is showing signs of helping bus fleet owners reduce the frequency and severity of accidents in a cost-effective manner. These include the use of advanced GPS-telematics and strategically placed live-action cameras both inside and outside the buses. The GPS/telematics technology can help identify high-risk areas, bad driving habits and even influence maintenance and operational costs. On-board cameras, strategically placed inside and outside the bus can help with blind spot issues as well as controlling on-board behavioral problems. Camera footage can also be useful in recreating a scenario where fault is disputed.

Mike Scrudato: We believe that advances in auto safety technology can help to improve road safety. The specific technologies that are most impactful vary based on fleet size, vehicle type, geography, and other factors. As a result, the best practice we offer through our Smart Mobility program is to analyze specific loss drivers and map them to the most appropriate technologies for a specific fleet.

Through our Smart Mobility program, we have worked with various clients and distribution partners to analyze auto losses and trends and then to deploy technology solutions such as telematics, driver coaching, and collision avoidance systems. The effectiveness of these solutions varies based on the type of fleet. IIHS has produced studies that show the effectiveness of various collision avoidance systems in new vehicles.

Khzouz: Through our pilot deployment of Mobileye Shield+, we learned to involve our employees, the operators, immediately. The operators felt included from the onset. They understood the goal of providing them tools to help them as a professional driver. Ensuring that you respect their skills but giving them the tools to be even better is extremely important.

We also found it important to review the data in real time at least once a day. If not, at least with a roundtable discussion once a week and to adjust your training accordingly. We found some very interesting data points that made us rethink the way we train our operators based upon what we saw. Reviewing those data points often, allows you to adjust the way you operate in real time.

We also spent time understanding the hotspots identified by Mobileye Shield+. We then focused our training on drivers that happen to frequent those areas. We’ve also worked with the Department of Transportation to make sure that the environment is as safe as possible, ensuring street lights and pedestrian crossings are maintained properly in those areas.

What sets Mobileye Shield+ apart from other collision avoidance systems in terms of advanced technology, ease-of-use and effectiveness?

Spears: One word: intelligence. The system truly understands its environment and makes a decision.

Tamir: Mobileye Shield+ was specifically designed for long urban vehicles. Our technology accounts for the different blind spots on buses and the unique maneuvers associated with transit driving. The system was also designed to account for the fact that buses operate for many years and retrofitting is the only way for transit officials to upgrade existing buses with the latest safety technology. Shield+ can be installed on a new bus or retrofitted into an existing bus. Since we know that taking the bus off the road is a strain on the transit system, we designed Shield+ to have a simple and fast installation process.

We also created a unique, first-of-its kind, two-tier warning system that acts as a both a blind-spot warning and collision warning system. The two kinds of warning either encourage the driver to act with caution or alert the driver to take immediate action to prevent a collision.

When developing those alerts, we focused on how they would impact the experience that the bus driver has when driving a bus with Shield+. The innovative, but simple, visual and audible alerts that notify the driver of a potential collision are designed to not distract the driver.

The Shield+ telematics system also points out the exact location and time of each alert, allowing planners to make improvements to city infrastructure.

Finally, Shield+ is not only about vulnerable road users – meaning it is not only about pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Vehicular insurance claims are a major cost factor for agencies (which are usually self-insured). It really is a robust, all-in-one system.