Indiana school district's new buses alert driver of potential dangers

School buses in Bartholomew County have special safety features, including cameras that see dangerous situations to help even the most careful bus drivers. (WTHR photo)
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COLUMBUS, Ind. (WTHR) — Some of the high-tech safety features parents are paying extra to have in their new family SUV's are also in new school buses.

When classes start Aug. 7, some students of Bartholomew Consolidated schools will be riding buses equipped with collision avoidance systems and cameras that see dangerous situations that might escape even the best and most careful bus drivers.

The new school buses look like any other bus, but they are not.

Bartholomew County schools are getting buses with upgraded safety features. (WTHR)

"This is a big vehicle, there are lots of blind spots," said Susan Tirey.

She's been driving buses for 28 years. Not one of them had safety features like the one she is driving now.

Cameras see all around the bus all at once. The image is displayed in the rearview mirror, eliminating dangerous blind spots

"It's just another layer of safety," Tirey said.

The new buses actually have multiple layers of safety.

Eyewitness News took a ride with Neal Newell to see how they work.

"Kids are going to make mistakes," Newell said.

If a driver is exceeding the speed limit, moving too close to the traffic head or drifting into another lane, sensors set off an audio alarm or make the driver's seat vibrate.

"If I stray off the road it will vibrate and wake me up," Newell said.

But the biggest advantage drivers agree, is being able to see children anywhere near the bus.

"With that camera you can keep an eye on them" he explained. "It's a huge deal — a huge deal."

Newell can't forget the day kids dropped some school papers as they walked away from the bus. The wind blew them back toward the bus as he prepared to pull away.

"As soon as they turned and started running after them. I lose sight of them right there," he said pointing to a blind spot near the front wheel. It was a close call.

Long before he became a school bus driver, piloting a bus loaded with kids through traffic and narrow country roads, Newell was a Navy pilot flying combat missions over Vietnam.

"if you made a mistake you weren't going to live through it," he explained. "Here if you make a mistake it’s the very same thing."

Bartholomew Consolidated schools bought eight of the special equipped buses. They cost about $6,000 more than a typical bus.

"Anything we can do to add to our buses that ensures the safety of our students, we are going to try it," said Transportation Director Karen Wetherald.

The school system will evaluate the buses this school year. If they provide the additional safety and security, they've promised more will be on the shopping list next year.

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