February 2022 | Vol. 27 No. 2
by Caryn Vorster, Group Head of Technical Writing, Applied Information Inc.
In an average school year, at least 100 children are killed, and another 25,000 are injured while navigating to and from school.1 An estimated 17 million school bus stop arm violations are reported in that same year.2
It is no wonder that the recently approved Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also referred to colloquially as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, includes provisions for roadway safety, including a commitment of funds for “safe routes to school.”
This initiative, running in parallel with NEMA’s latest standards for deploying connected vehicle (CV) applications, should see the further deployment of real-world, readily available Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology in school zones and on school buses. The inherent safety benefits of connected vehicle applications and the formation of public-private partnerships with the united vision of improving vulnerable road user safety will be vital to providing safer school zones for generations to come.
The IIJA includes funds for transportation safety and a program designed to reduce accidents and fatalities. Section 11119 of the bill partially restores the “Safe Routes to School” program, which encourages walking and cycling to and from school while facilitating a safer environment for road users within school zones.
Eligible projects may include traffic calming and sidewalk, speed reduction, and traffic diversion improvements within school vicinities, to name a few. In addition, section 4110, “Review of Laws, Security Measures, and Technologies Relating to School Buses,” is set to review current illegal passing laws while identifying the best practices in addressing and reducing the unlawful passing of school buses. The review shall include evaluating the effectiveness of various technologies designed to enhance school zone safety while working with representatives of the school bus industry and public and private sectors.
Of the 130,930 recorded number of K-12 schools throughout the U.S., a large percentage use fixed signals and traffic control devices, such as school zone signs and flashers, designed to control traffic movements and vehicle speeds within the vicinity of a school. In addition, most of these schools rely on buses to transport students to and from school throughout the year. People often don’t realize that these buses, and their integrated stop signals, are mobile traffic control devices and fall under traffic control infrastructure.
Pilot Project Focuses on School Zone Traffic Infrastructure
With this in mind, industry thought leaders joined forces with a united goal of developing and demonstrating real-world C-V2X applications related to school zone traffic control infrastructure. The team leveraged innovation and technology to successfully implement two critical school safety applications. This was done using a Blue Bird propane-powered school bus, 2021 Audi e-tron Sportback electric SUV, and Applied Information field technology equipped with C-V2X solutions, provided by Qualcomm. Roadside units were installed in school zone traffic control equipment in the City of Alpharetta, and onboard units were installed in school buses operated by Fulton County Georgia Schools.
Project development took place at the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Laboratory (iATL), a unique establishment used for developing and testing connected vehicle applications in an authentic streetscape setting.
Applications included warning drivers when entering or exceeding the speed limit in an active school zone and approaching a stopped school bus. These connected vehicle applications were built around the NEMA TS 10-2020 Connected Vehicle Infrastructure – Roadside Equipment standard, which provides technical specifications enabling the co-existence of multiple communication technologies, specifically for connected vehicle applications. This set of standards was instrumental in the pilot program’s success, as it provided the standardized foundation needed to operate vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, regardless of the device type or communication means.
Connecting School Safety Message with Nearby C-V2X Cars
In the first application of the pilot project, school zone flashers, outfitted with a roadside unit, broadcast CV messages to an Audi car with embedded C-V2X technology. Upon entering an active school zone, the vehicle would receive a basic safety message in the form of a notification on the dashboard, indicating that school children may be present within the vicinity. In addition, if the vehicle is detected traveling above the speed limit, the technology would send a further warning notification to the driver.
The second application alerts drivers approaching a stopped school bus when children enter and exit the vehicle. Acting as a mobile traffic control device, the stopped Blue Bird school bus would broadcast the status of its stop-arm to the approaching Audi, providing drivers with an additional heads up that the stop arm is out.
Such alerts enhance driver adherence to the given speed limits in school zones and ultimately improve the safety of school children walking and cycling near school grounds. The visual and audible alerts of the school bus stop-arm status provide the driver with sufficient preparation time to react, slow down, and bring the vehicle safely to a stop while warning if the vehicle may pass the stopped bus. Although, for now, only drivers get these alerts, the technology may well pave the way for future connected vehicle applications such as automatic braking and slowing down of vehicles. C-V2X and connected vehicle technology, in general, were proven to be readily available to provide numerous safety applications, specifically for vulnerable road users.
What’s in it for NEMA Members?
What relevance and associated impacts will the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the advancements of C-V2X technology have for NEMA members? According to Bryan Mulligan, Chair of the NEMA Transportation Management Systems and Associated Control Devices Section, Member of the NEMA Board of Governors, and CEO and President of Applied Information Inc., the answer is threefold.
First, most people worry about children’s safety on our roadways. Every NEMA member company and its employees have loved ones that will go through, are currently in, or have been through our schooling system. This new bill leverages a movement for additional safety on our roadways, specifically to assist in safeguarding our children traveling to and from school.
Second, roadway accidents and associated deaths on our roads pose a massive cost to America. At an estimated societal cost currently set at $10 million U.S. dollars per death, with close to 40,000 recorded roadway deaths per year3,4, the redirection of this capital and resources to enhance roadway safety would improve the quality of life for all of society. This is where NEMA’s ability to develop standards, and more specifically connected vehicle standards, assists in our ability to connect all roadway users and our surrounding traffic infrastructure seamlessly.
Finally, and arguably the most significant issue addressed, business leaders must focus their talents on doing good. In the past, capitalism has proven to be an efficient way of ensuring that products and services are delivered efficiently. With that said, the message of altruism, empathy, and wanting to leave the world a better place for generations to come is a motivating factor for many businesses and business decisions. For example, Jovan Zagajac, General Manager for Connected Vehicle Technologies Ford Smart Mobility, has indicated that Ford Motor Company is progressing connected vehicle technology because it is “the right thing to do.”
With NEMA’s connected vehicle standards, the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the coming together of the public and private sectors, and the progression of real-world C-V2X safety applications, we can join forces with industry leaders who provide the building blocks for safer roadways in our communities. More importantly, we can use this readily available technology to add additional layers of safety for school children, address the school zone and school bus safety issues that children face daily, and ensure improved road safety for all. ei
1 John Glanzman, Newbridge Coverage Corp., Get in the Zone for School Road Safety, 2017.
2 Nicole Schlosser, Schoolbus Fleet, National Stop-Arm Survey Counts Over 95K Illegal Passes of School Buses, 2019.
3 Association for Safe International and Road Travel, Road Safety Facts, 2022.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency, Mortality Risk Valuation