Bus PASS: Testing Pedestrian Collision Avoidance Technology

Bus PASS: Testing Pedestrian Collision Avoidance Technology

Already, many cars have sensors on board that help drivers avoid collisions. But not many commercial vehicles do. With pedestrian fatalities due to collisions, on the rise, the Federal Transit Administration is working on a “Pedestrian Avoidance Safety System: ‘PASS’ for short. And it picked Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute to give it a test drive. Robbie Harris reports. 

Public buses help ease congestion on our roadways and curb emissions but by their nature, they interact with pedestrians all the time.

“We’ve seen recent research they did in Metro, Washington D.C., that 20% of pedestrians don’t look up when they cross” the street.

Andrew Crum is senior research associate for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety. He explains, they’re using LIDAR, which is similar to RADAR but sends pulses of light instead of radio signals, to determine if people or objects are in danger of being hit by the vehicle.

“We’re looking to measure if it reduces collisions with the public, pedestrians and bicycles.  We’re also looking to see if drivers accept it.  These systems don’t drive for the bus.” Instead, they assist bus operators by alerting them to them potential collisions.”

Here’s how it works:

“First of all, it would give a caution if there appears to be something in the path the driver needs to be aware of.”  Bus operators are taught “to look around every 8 to 10 seconds and that’s in addition to looking straight forward. They’re looking at mirrors and (looking) everywhere, so they may have just looked there.” The PASS system “may tell them to ‘look back” because there may be something they may not have seen “half a second ago.”


Warnings begin with a message on the driver’s screen. If nothing happens a red light comes on, and finally an audible tone, telling the driver the system is going to apply some braking.  But it’s designed only to assist the driver, not stop the vehicle on its own.

“Drivers are taught to brake up to a certain level to protect passengers on the bus in addition to protecting pedestrians on the street.  And so this system will only brake up to ( that same) level to assist and or help get the driver’s attention to something they may not have observed.  Then the driver completes the job.”

Crum believes there will always be a place for buses, and bus drivers in our society. “We have a need for public transit that cares for people who may be under banked, disabled, or who need assistance in transportation and I think it’s part of our country’s responsibility to provide good transportation.

Collisions by public transit buses and vans injure some 16-hundred people every year and kill 100.  The 1.66-million-dollar project is funded by the Federal Transit Administration, Washington State, VTTI and ten other partners, public and private.

Here’s the full list: 

Project Partners and Roles:

  • Pierce Transit (formally Pierce County Public Transportation Benefit Area Corporation). Pierce Transit is the sole transit partner involved in this national FTA research project. Following the work at VTTI, Pierce Transit will test the technology on four Pierce Transit buses in Pierce County, Washington, without passengers on board for about six months. If successful, the agency will add the technology to 26 additional buses (30 total) to test in revenue service for another approximately 18 months.
  • Washington State Transit Insurance Pool (WSTIP). WSTIP is a risk pool consisting of 25 Washington transit agencies. WSTIP is a financial contributor to the project and has the role of managing the research partners. WSTIP pioneered an earlier research study on collision avoidance technology that was a catalyst for this enhanced project. WSTIP’s goal is to find technology that will assist bus operators with the safe operation of their vehicles and can be retrofitted to the existing fleet. WSTIP has strategic goals focused on reducing rear-end collisions and bus pedestrian/strikes.
  • Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. VTTI is evaluating the PASS system to ensure it meets user needs.
  • University of Washington. The Smart Transportation Applications and Research Laboratory (STAR Lab) at the University of Washington is focusing primarily on developing an on-board video-based near-miss detection tool for evaluating off-the-shelf collision warning systems and designing data reduction, storage, and analysis methodologies for efficient data management and safety analysis.
  • DCS Technologies, Inc. DCS Technologies is the PASS technology vendor.
  • Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. In collaboration with the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool, Munich RE launched a pilot program equipping 38 transit buses with collision avoidance technology known as Mobileye Shield+TM.  Rosco®Vision Systems is the official North American provider and driver-interface manufacturer of this system. The advanced driver assistance technology empowers drivers to avoid and mitigate imminent collisions, protecting the most vulnerable and difficult-to-observe road users: cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.
  • University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research. Through a cooperative agreement with FTA’s Office of Research, Demonstration, and Innovation. CUTR is working with Pierce Transit to coordinate and monitor performance measures, and the collection and analysis of deployment data to track those performance measures.
  • Veritas Forensic Accounting and Economics. Veritas will be analyzing the technology’s return on investment.
  • Janet Gates. Janet Gates is the project coordinator.
  • Jerome M. Lutin, PhD, LLC. Jerome Lutin is a retired senior director of Statewide and Regional Planning at New Jersey Transit and is currently serving as the study’s principal research investigator.

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