This installment of “Buying Tomorrow’s Buses Today” identifies some equipment issues\C2 related to enhanced visibility apart from those related to improvements in exterior and interior lighting and mirrors (see installment #7 in NBT, September, 2006: “Buying Tomorrow’s Buses Today, Part 7: Illumination and Visibility). This installment covers reflectors, windshields, windows, cameras, motion sensors, signage, driver’s compartment adjustments and a few features that do not fall neatly into any categories.
The treatment below does not and cannot cover every piece of equipment, much less their nuances, much less the model-by-model nuances of each manufacturers’ product lines. Thus, the comments below do not constitute a checklist. Instead, they identify equipment whose features are likely to enhance visibility and, in the process, reduce the risks of experiencing or contributing to an incident. The vehicle’s operating environment and duty cycle, its institutional and regulatory environment, and the overall transportation system’s design and characteristics should guide the further refinement of choices involving the selection of such equipment.
In the selection of topics below, efforts have been made to include some equipment and features not immediately obvious to motorcoach industry professionals. A few may seem out on the edge. But so were some of the lawsuits that led me to suggest them.
Because cameras capture evidence, they comprise double-edged swords as a liability matter: They provide information that can help management and drivers prevent incidents, and they may document causes unrelated to system or driver failures – including fraudulent injury claims – when an incident occurs. But cameras may also document a system’s or driver’s errors and/or omissions. While somewhat of an oversimplification, cameras will generally help absolve good systems and operators, and generally provide proof of the negligence made by bad ones. For this reason alone, the inclusion of cameras, as equipment, suggests that management was interested in monitoring driver performance, and that it was not indifferent to safety.
One useful way to classify cameras is by what section of the bus or coach they depict: Behind the bus, in front of the bus, around the bus, in the stepwell(s) and in the passenger compartment.
- Behind-the-bus. Passengers crossing behind the bus are vulnerable to being struck by oncoming vehicles. Bus and coach drivers aware of such pedestrians’ presence can warn both them (e.g., air horns can be mounted on or near the rear cap) and the approaching motorists (e.g., via horns or flashing “brights” or hazard lights). Such devices are particularly helpful for motorcoaches deployed in sightseeing or computer/express service.
- In Front of the Bus. Even with their oversized windshields mounted flush to the front cap, short pedestrians crossing in front, up against the front cap, are not always visible to drivers. Schoolbuses contain “crossover” mirrors for this purpose – although their passengers are supposed to cross in front, whereas other bus passengers are supposed to cross in back. However, in the two score of crossing cases I have examined forensically, the victims’ crossing “orientation” has been backwards roughly half the time – for both schoolbuses and other buses. And while third-party vehicles more often strike the crossing pedestrians than do the buses or coaches themselves, the bus system and/or driver usually contributes to the incident. Because most motorists carry only pitiful insurance, you can bet that the victim’s attorneys will look long and hard at any bus company whose vehicle or stop lay near the mayhem when it occurred.
- Around the Bus. Cameras can also depict objects around the bus. One technology, Drive Cam, documents these objects when the bus is moving, as it is triggered by jolts. Because the hard drive generates an endless loop, the camera captures events 10 seconds before the incident that triggers its “permanent” recording. Apart from capturing incidents, footage of harmless events captured can help management monitor and modify driver behavior, detect problems before they translate into incidents, and improve driver safety and performance.
- Stepwells. One common incident scenario is a passenger falling up or, more commonly, down the stepwell. Sometimes passengers are simply careless. For example, they may not use completely functional handrails at their disposal. Where stepwells are inadequate or dangerous, cameras hardly provide unique evidence of it. But where stepwells are safe and sound, cameras may document that a slip-and-fall was the passenger’s fault. And stepwell cameras may capture conversations between passengers and the driver related to incidents that occur during or apart from boarding and alighting – including warnings the driver may have uttered to a passenger riding in the stepwell.
- Passenger Compartment. Cameras depicting activity inside the passenger compartment can help document distractions that may compromise driver performance – although these distractions may also document negligent passenger management. More importantly, these cameras help document breaches of security, and as such, can serve as a powerful deterrent to dangerous behavior. Some new innovations, like Tiger Mirror’s 360-degree profile camera, provide an overhead view of the passenger compartment that permits drivers to observe behavior behind seatbacks – a particularly handy capability for the 30 percent of motorcoach service involving school-related field or activity trips. With monitors mounted on the dashboard, interior cameras enable drivers to monitor behavior – including passengers failing to remain in their seats – more thoroughly and more easily than via the interior rear-view mirror. For motorcoach drivers bothering to warn passengers of appropriate and inappropriate times to use the restroom, interior cameras can help document the negligence of passengers who fail to listen.
Beyond submarines and other warfare-related uses, periscopes first emerged on buses in the form of the “Rearscope” embedded in the rear window of schoolbuses. This device permits the driver to see objects behind the bus that lie below the rear window. While all buses and coaches do not contain rear windows, the Rearscope provides a relatively inexpensive way for a driver to see behind a bus or coach that does.
Motion-sensing Devices & Back-up Alarms
Over the past two decades, a number of manufacturers have introduced products that detect both motion and/or objects alongside, in front of, and/or behind the bus. These devices include VORAD, Delco’s Forewarn system, and more recently, devices manufactured by Ackton and Romeo Rim – to name only some of the most well-known. Thought should be given to expanding the “configuration” of these devices. For example, back-up alarms could sound when pedestrians emerge behind the bus – instead of simply when the bus is about to back up. With these devices configured to engage in all gears (rather than just “reverse”), drivers could detect pedestrians about to walk out into the path of oncoming traffic.
Dash Fans and Defrosters
Most buses and coaches contain dash fans – designed primarily for defrosting. So it is curious how many are positioned, instead, to cool off the driver. Such positioning provides disturbing evidence in lawsuits related to incidents where driver visibility appears to have been compromised. Otherwise, defrosting capability and speed, not heating capability, should be the limiting factors in “sizing” the defrosting system.
Signage and Marking
In a recent incident likely to become a legend in motorcoach folklore, a supermodel traveling at night wended her way toward the restroom, opened an emergency door, and stepped out onto the freeway. More frequent are a litany of cases where passengers fall out the rear doors of transit buses – partly because the signage was even more inept than the door configuration it was presumably intended to explain.
Signage and marking must both identify things and explain how to use them. Since motorcoach passengers can use restrooms when the coach is moving, it would be helpful for drivers to know when the restroom is occupied. If passengers could similarly detect this usage, they would make fewer needless journeys down the aisle to occupied restrooms.
The color and reflectivity of signage, marking and interior objects (like stanchions, securement devices, seat legs) is also important, and the contrast between these objects and seats, sidewalls and flooring should be dramatic. Exaggerating this contrast will especially help elderly and disabled passengers. Purchasers of coaches providing a large number of school-related activity trips might even think about painting the interior Baker-Miller Pink – a forgotten innovation of the Sixties used to paint prison interiors, and credited for cutting violence levels practically in half.
While comfort inarguably sells motorcoaches and motorcoach service, few passengers select this form of transportation, or any company providing it, because of the beauty of the vehicle interior. Instead, a prudent rule would be to brighten or otherwise differentiate everything and anything a passenger might encounter apart from the seats, sidewalls and floor.
Visors should be large, easily-adjustable, instantly accessible and within the driver’s reach from a normal position in the driver’s seat. Placing a separate visor on the driver’s-side passenger window will prevent drivers from having to swing the front visor 90 degrees clockwise during a turn when the sun is suddenly repositioned to create glare.
Objects should not be installed or mounted on the dashboard, since they might compromise a driver’s view through the lower, most important band of the windshield. Upper tinting should be dark, the wide band of tinting graduated, and the tinting graduated enough for the driver to observe traffic signals and the height of bridge undersides from a reasonable distance in front. Drivers may have to lower their heads a bit to observe these phenomena when the windshields are tinted. But they should be “rocking and rolling” for other reasons (e.g., to see around window posts and exterior, rear-view mirrors). Otherwise, bus drivers need not observe birds, helicopters, tree tops or balconies.
The bus industry in general might also give some thought to anti-glare window film like that available to the construction industry, and employed in “high-end” home and office windows. Even a low level of interest in such technology is likely to lead to its introduction.
Ergonomic Driver’s Compartments
Seeing can also be optimized by properly adjusting the driver’s seat and steering column. But drivers will use these features more often when their adjustments are easy. Fully-pneumatic drivers’ seats that adjust fore and aft, and up and down, will also help drivers alleviate fatigue – although they may have to readjust their mirrors when they correspondingly adjust seat positions.
Reflective striping – on both the sides and the front cap – is a grossly-underutilized safety technology given its relatively low cost. A fundamental component of defensive driving (e.g., as per the Smith System commonly taught to professional drivers) is, “Make sure they [other drivers] see you.” At night, when the bus or coach is harder to see, approaching motorists should not have to extrapolate its form, size and shape from a cluster of clearance lights, headlights and taillights. Other than science teachers and astronomy students, no one looking at the constellation “Orion” sees the bear. But anyone who can recognize a pattern can find the “Big Dipper.”
Do not mount bicycle racks on the front cap, where bicycles positioned on them might compromise the driver’s visibility through the windshield. Instead, mount them on the rear cap – a position which at least one converter has made “standard.”
Windshield Washing System
Particularly when wiper blades are worn, the deficiencies in window washing systems translate into dirty windshields. Photographs of dirty windshields provide troubling easel displays in lawsuits involving compromised driver visibility. Apart from blade coverage patterns (overlaps enable a worn blade to offset the work of a fellow clean blade), pump capacity is important, and large reservoirs helpful – especially on motorcoaches intended for long trips between maintenance and fueling stations. In dusty and snowy environments, normal reservoirs can empty before the completion of a single trip. And for coaches with rear windows, rear window wipers and washer systems might be helpful – although obviously not as important as front window apparatus.
Because window washers are not fool-proof (e.g., water in the tiny spray-holes can freeze), and as many motorcoach trips are significantly long, ice chippers, squeegees, sponges, spray bottles and a reasonable number of clean rags should be standard equipment.
Some of the suggestions above will admittedly make the bus or coach a bit less pretty. But buses and coaches do not have feelings, and do not hum tunes from West Side Story. In contrast, when aesthetic compromises appear, it is usually obvious that their purpose is to enhance safety. It is doubtful that, when encountering such phenomena, passengers will find them offensive.
I am not suggesting wrapping the bumpers with yellow-and-black-striped “danger tape” – although I have seen mirror mounts so wrapped, just as I have been involved in lawsuits where unsuspecting passengers have walked into them, unwrapped. Instead, I am simply suggesting that the vehicle, and certain of its equipment, be easy to see, and that they provide clues about confronting and using them.
Cost and Illusion
Most of the items mentioned above cost money. Yet apart from cameras, the entire collection of paraphernalia identified above would not likely add $500 to the cost of an already luxurious motorcoach. Otherwise, the costs of optimizing safety equipment is largely an illusion for two important reasons:
- Much of the equipment identified above must be present in some form simply to comply with regulatory requirements. The additional costs of exceeding these requirements effectively represent “upgrades,” and as a result, would generally involve far less cost than would the installation of “base” equipment meeting minimum requirements.
- Because of the U.S. litigation environment, it is likely to cost more to not purchase and install such equipment.
As NBT readers familiar with my past articles well know, I am a strong believer and vocal advocate of the philosophy that “Safety Pays.” This is not true only with respect to liability, although liability is the prism through which the true costs of safety (or the lack of it) are exaggerated. It is also true with respect to marketing.
Particularly in Today’s litigious society, anyone who thinks that safety does not pay is a fool. Many motorcoach passengers may be poor. But they are not stupid. Most passengers appreciate safety features. And they appreciate the respect and concern for their safety and wellbeing that the motorcoach company’s investment in such features demonstrates. The minute or so drivers might spend pointing them out might provide the “product differentiation” companies in private enterprise so greatly seek and value.
Particularly when one brings it to the passengers’ attention, safety affects ridership. In some of my transit specification projects, I learned, for example, that video cameras designed primarily to discourage bad behavior among school-age riders had a much greater effect on ridership increases by elderly passengers who “felt safer” as a consequence of this equipment’s presence. This result echoes the principle that safety and security improvements designed for one subset of riders often improves safety and security for many other ridership sectors, if not all riders.
System and driver errors and omissions are more common causes of incidents and accidents than deficient equipment. However, equipment can make a huge difference. In some incident scenarios, the right equipment would likely have eliminated the incidents altogether. As an example, among the more than 200 lawsuits I have been involved in, the third-most common incident scenario has been passenger assault or molestation – by either fellow passengers or drivers. The combination of a (a) 360-degree profile camera, (b) front header-mounted video camera, and (c) an oversized, convex, interior, rear-view mirror would have deterred most of them.
It is also important to recognize that dozens of errors and omissions must often be made to produce an incident. Depending on the specific errors or omissions, removing even a single one may prevent the incident from occurring. While there is a practical limit to how much one can control the operating environment, or even driver conduct or performance, one has nearly complete control over equipment – apart from the impacts of latent design defects, deterioration and maintenance.
Demonstrating that one’s equipment exceeds “the industry standard” can provide an important key to rebutting charges of reckless disregard – a characterization that triggers the awarding of punitive damages in many states. Of course, superior equipment improves the chances that an incident will not occur in the first place.