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Pierce County, Wash., Transit Deploys System to Help Buses Avoid Collisions with Pedestrians, Bicyclists

Researchers at the University of Washington are compiling data on the system to help determine whether it is “as effective as claimed."

by Adam Lynn, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) / October 18, 2016

(TNS) -- Sometimes, two eyes just aren’t enough.

That’s the idea behind a pilot project at Pierce Transit that’s seen the agency outfit seven buses with vision sensors that notify drivers if a pedestrian or bicycle wanders into his or her blind spot.

The yearlong project has been so successful the agency is applying for a $2 million federal grant to outfit the rest of its 167 buses with the technology, said Rob Huyck, the agency’s risk manager. The grant request to the Federal Transportation Administration is to go out later this month.

“No accidents. Nothing. Zip,” Huyck said of the buses equipped with the Mobileye Collision Avoidance System.

Meanwhile, buses not outfitted with the sensors have been involved in collisions with at least two pedestrians and a bicyclist over the same time period. Fortunately, Huyck said, no one was killed.

In one of those cases, agency safety officials are confident Mobileye would have prevented the collision, he said.

While the results are unscientific at this point, Huyck called the apparent trend “a very good sign,” and METRO Magazine last month honored Pierce Transit and its Mobileye partners with an Innovative Solutions award for the project.

“Pierce County is continuing to grow, and we will only see more buses, pedestrians and bicyclists sharing our roadways,” said Kent Keel, chairman of the Pierce Transit Board of Directors. “It’s important to use whatever tools we can to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Keeping people safe also benefits Pierce Transit by reducing damages claims against the agency, Huyck said.

“You cut out some of your largest losses and reduce human suffering,” he said. “That’s huge.”

Pierce Transit’s foray into collision-avoidance technology is being watched by people aside from agency safety officials.

Researchers at the University of Washington are compiling data on the system to help determine whether it is “as effective as claimed,” Huyck said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is keeping an eye on the pilot as well.

“They want to see this on school buses if it works,” he said.

Pierce Transit decided to try out the Mobileye technology, which was modified for buses by Rosco Vision Systems, after meeting with company officials and other transit agencies, including King County Metro, in Seattle last spring. That group cobbled together about $200,000 in grants to try out the technology at several transit agencies across the state.

Sensors mounted on the front and sides of a bus act like bionic eyes, scanning for objects that might be in what Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet described as “the danger zone around the bus.”

If Mobileye detects a risk, it triggers lighted displays visible to the driver.

“It will go yellow and then it will go red,” Huyck said. “When it goes red, you better hit the brakes.”

Pierce Transit driver Marvino Gilliam and safety officer Jason Hovde recently demonstrated the technology at the agency’s parking lot and training yard.

Hovde played the part of pedestrian and walked into areas around Gilliam’s moving bus that were hard for the driver to view.

Each time the bus approached Hovde, the Mobileye flashed a warning, and Gilliam braked.

No collisions.

“The purpose of the technology is to assist the operator in seeing things that they might not otherwise see,” Huyck said. “This system will pick that up and give the operator a warning and a couple of extra seconds to do something about it.”

Gilliam said he and other drivers find the technology helpful.

“We’ve had operators come in and say it has helped alert them to a passenger maybe they didn’t see,” he said. “It’s good technology. It just needs to be refined.”

Said Hovde: “We’re trying to protect people.”

That includes taxpayers.

It costs about $7,500 to outfit a bus, Huyck said, but that cost can be recouped by avoiding the filing of a damages claim by someone hit by a bus. Settlements in such cases can reach upward of $2 million, he said.

“If you can avoid even one of these, you’re ahead of the game,” Huyck said.

©2016 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.