While cities around the country debate how to deal with a future full of self-driving cars, Pierce Transit has been incorporating technology into its fleet of buses to make them safer.
Transit agencies around the state began experimenting with collision avoidance technology last year. Buses are outfitted with sensors on the front and sides that alert drivers when pedestrians or bicyclists get too close.
Pierce Transit was awarded a $1.66 million federal grant in January to expand its use of the technology. All of the agency's 176 buses will be outfitted with the sensor technology, and 30 buses will begin experimenting with automatic braking.
"This technology is pretty prevalent on cars. It makes sense to do it on transit because they're bigger and they come near pedestrians a lot when they're going around corners and across sidewalks," Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said.
Initial results from Pierce County's experiment are promising, Japhet said. None of the buses using the tech hit pedestrians, and they had fewer near-misses than the buses not equipped with the sensors.
In addition to pedestrian safety, the technology could save the agency money on injury claims, Japhet said.
Pierce Transit will work with several partners to analyze the safety and cost benefits of the new tools in an in-depth year-long study. The goal is to determine whether this technology could become a national standard.
Japhet said the county is a good size for this kind of study.
"Pierce County is only going to continue to grow with more buses and pedestrians, so it's important to use whatever tools we can to keep everyone as safe as possible," Japhet said.
The extra sensors and new braking technologies are expected to roll out early next year.