An eye from the sky on bus safety

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We were heartened when Google stood up to the U.S. Justice Departments demand for millions of its users search requests in a crackdown on child pornography. We silently cheered when the Lexington Urban-County Council deep-sixed a study of using digital cameras to catch motorists running red lights.

In both cases, the ends were admirable, but the means represented two more technological intrusions into peoples lives. The next time, the ends may not be so admirable.

And initially, we were just as skeptical of a pilot program to install global positioning system trackers on 10 Franklin County school buses. Dont satellites have better uses than tracking a bus as it rumbles through Bald Knob? Why would anyone need to know where a school bus is at any given time?

As it turns out, the GPS trackers have any number of uses on school buses. They can spot a bus broken down anywhere in the county, including places where radios and cell phones dont work properly. They can tell whether a driver is on the right route and whether the bus is traveling too fast. They can be used to give instructions to drivers on field trips about reaching a particular destination. They can tell the Central Office whether buses are operating economically and issue an alert that a bus has a bad set of brakes.

A bus manufacturer is furnishing the $850 GPS tracking devices free for a years trial. Franklin County is the only school system in the state studying the GPS bus system.

Were sure some drivers feel being watched by a satellite in space is a bit much. They probably would change their mind of they were involved in an accident on a rural road with no way of contacting anyone.

Its one thing for the government to use its vast power to use technology to spy on citizens searching Google for chicken divan recipes. Its another thing entirely for a school system to use technology to make certain a bus loaded with children is on the right track.

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