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School Bus Drivers to Test Sobriety Sensors

Staff, Metroland News Service
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WATERLOO REGION — Local school bus drivers will soon be road testing a new technology designed to prevent drinking and driving.

The pilot project, a partnership between local startups blueRover and Sober Steering Sensors Canada and school bus operator Voyageur Transportation, will see three buses outfitted in a test run that’s hailed as a first for North America.

Using Sober Steering’s chemical sensors built into steering wheels, the system can tell if a driver has been drinking by analyzing their skin. The sensors can be adjusted to whatever standard desired — including zero tolerance for booze. 

If the sensors detect alcohol in the driver’s skin, it locks down the engine and immobilizes the bus. Software developed by Kitchener-based blueRover can send that test result via email or text message to the bus driver’s supervisor — and even tell them exactly where the vehicle is located.

“It can call up the board office and let them know this has happened, and positions the bus on a map,” said BlueRover chief executive Loreto Saccucci.

The equipment is also sensitive enough that it can tell if the driver was drinking the night before, he said.

Perry Ferguson, president of Voyageur Transportation, said he lent the firms use of several buses out of his Fergus-based fleet to test the equipment. The sensors they’re testing are just an extra level of safety for buses that already carry video cameras and global positioning devices, he said.

“I don’t think (impaired bus driving) happens very often, I hope never, but it’s always good to have a backup in place to ensure the person behind the wheel is not only qualified to drive but able to drive,” Ferguson said.

“I think it’s very viable. It could probably be used for people who’ve maybe had impaired driving charges on the non-commercial side. I think there’s quite a bit of a market they’re looking at.”

Saccucci concedes that impaired school bus driving may not be a widespread problem, but says this pilot project is just a first step, with potential applications for everything from trucking fleets to construction equipment.

The firms hope to expand testing to other kinds of commercial fleets in the coming months. But the school bus pilot protect is a first, they say.

“There’s nothing more important than making sure our kids get to and from school safely,” Sober Steering’s chief operating officer Catherine Carroll said in a statement.

“This is the first pilot of its kind in North America that uses steering wheel based sensors and tracking technology to ensure school bus drivers are sober.”

Sober Steering was founded in Florida in 2008 by Dennis Bellehumeur, a University of Windsor-trained neuro-clinical psychologist. Carroll moved the company to Waterloo the following year where it has continued its research inside the Accelerator Centre.

Although the equipment isn’t being mass-produced yet, Saccucci said the alcohol interlock systems could be rented for about $40 a month per unit.

The system can’t be cheated by wearing gloves or using someone else’s hands to get a sober reading, he said. The sensors are designed to randomly test the driver at any point, to ensure they haven’t tried to trick the equipment.

Saccucci says production of these specialized sensors could be ramped up by the middle of 2013, and could have uses far beyond just vehicles.

“You can put it on anything,” Saccucci said. “It can be used on any piece of equipment that has a concern with safety.”


School Bus Drivers to Test Sobriety Sensors

Staff, Metroland News Service