The school bus of the future is here for kids in Dallas County Schools. At first glance, you may notice nothing new. But there are security cameras inside and out, a GPS tracker and alerts, seatbelts -- and even a thumbprint ID scanner.
It looks like the same big yellow bus you’ve seen forever, and it sounds like it, too. But look closer, Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorrells says.
“You’ll see something sticking out just a little bit there,” Sorrells says, “and there are cameras, multiple cameras in there and that’s the camera that affects the stop arm. When the stop arm is out and people run past it, it takes photographs of the license plates of those.”
Sorrells says videos of passing cars have been forwarded to Dallas police to nab bus stop-sign runners. The camera has even helped track down hit and run violators. Sorrells keeps walking around the bus.
“In front you’ll see there’s a camera right there below the hood ornament,” Sorrells says, pointing. “If a small child were to run across in front of it, that driver can see that in fact there’s a student that’s there.”
Running buses is one of Dallas County Schools’ biggest jobs. The system, the nation’s fourth largest, serves kids from Richardson to Duncanville and districts in between. Sorrells walks to the back of the bus, where there’s another little dark glass dome above the door -- he calls it the pedophile cam.
“It can note if there’s something that takes place where there’s some suspicious activity behind the bus,” Sorrells explains. “If the bus is getting ready to back up and a student can’t be seen here running behind it, it provides safety for that student there also.”
And this is just the outside. Sorrells steps inside, but before he even climbs up to the seats, he stops at the thumb scanner.
“User not recognized. User not recognized,” the electronic thumb ID scanner voice declares.
Sorrells explains: “Clearly, it identifies very easily for the driver that this student is not a student that’s been authorized to be on this vehicle. If you were, and your fingerprint was authorized --
"Verified, thank you. Previously verified," the scanner declares.
Sorrells continues: "Previously verified, so then we know that’s a student that should be on this bus.”
There are more cameras inside by the driver, next to his screen. There’s another dome camera in the middle. There’s a system for the driver to call headquarters in emergencies, and all the seats have high backs and belts.
“When they come in,” Sorrells says, “all the students are given a code of conduct that they know what they’re required to do. The driver, as they get the students on, insure that the students are buckled up in their seat belts.”
Back inside the County School and Police building, Dallas County School Officer Todd Teetz says the new system on 850 buses has changed safety and security for 200,000 school kids across the county.
“We have availability to be able to speak to the bus drivers,” Teetz says, “so it really helps us in a tactical stance, be able to have more eyes and ears of what’s going on, live with the bus. We’re able to track the bus, we’re able to see what’s going on, and be able to make some judgment calls a lot sooner than we would if we’re sending someone halfway across the county.”
Sorrells says the technology upgrades cost $10,000 a bus. Each big yellow bus weighs in at $100,000. While the county picks up the price, he says there’s no additional cost to school districts.