Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Could technology have prevented the bus crash in Palm Springs?

by Take Two®

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Workers prepare to haul away a tour bus that crashed with semi-truck on Interstate 10 just west of the Indian Canyon Drive off-ramp, in Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. The tour bus and a semi-truck crashed on the highway in Southern California early Sunday, killing at least a dozen of people and injuring at least 30 others, some critically, the California Highway Patrol said. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Pena) Rodrigo Pena/AP

Officials continue their investigation into the cause of a deadly tour bus crash that killed 12 people and the driver near Palm Springs early Sunday morning,  One official from the California Highway Patrol says it appears the bus driver failed to brake before slamming into the rear of a big rig.

KPCC's Take Two spoke with a transportation expert on whether new transportation technology could have played a part in preventing the accident.

Sarah Catz, research associate at the UC-Irvine Institute of Transportation Studies, says technology already on roads might have helped if only it were integrated into most buses.

Volvo has developed a system that uses two sensors—a radar and a camera—to detect forward collisions.

"If a driver shows no sign reducing speed there's an automatic braking system that sets in and reduces the speed," Catz said.

She says it's also possible to take technology used in trains like Metrolink and modify it for buses.

Called Positive Train Control, GPS installed in train cars and tracks will communicate with each other, and send alerts if a train misses a signal, or if it's traveling too fast in a section of track. 

Semi-trucks already use a similar system called Peloton Technology, where individual trucks will talk to each other through sensors, alerting others if there's an accident ahead and, if so, to slow down.

"This kind of technology I could see being used for buses as well," says Catz.

Another option is already on the roads in Singapore: self-driving buses.

Used primarily in airports and resort areas, they're smaller than typical tour buses, seating only 24 passengers. Catz says the research so far on self-driving vehicles indicates they are safer than driver-manned cars.

Before any of these technologies hit the road, she says it's already possible for drivers to use apps to stay more alert. Some will periodically warn drivers to make sure they aren't about to fall asleep, or can be positioned in such a way to use a phone's camera to monitor a driver's eye movements for exhaustion.

For any of these solutions, Catz says it's important that the government put its weight behind this issue.

"It's just a matter of support," she says. "We have two presidential candidates who are talking about infrastructure, and if they put their money where their mouth, we could definitely put together some type of commission to look into it."

Click the blue audio player to hear the full interview.

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