The Power of Perseverance

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By Phil Baker

Some products can be developed quickly, as I noted in my post earlier this week. But some can take years. This is the incredible story of one individual with a product idea and passion to implement it, who has spent eleven years trying to bring it to reality. Not for financial gain, but to save lives.

An average of twenty children are killed each year in school bus loading and unloading accidents. The most frequent cause is a child being run over by his own bus. While buses are safer than passenger cars, these tragic fatalities have occurred year after year, impacting not only the immediate relatives, but affecting the classmates and the community. The deaths and injuries are caused by a variety of circumstances and errors, but particularly due to the blind spots around the bus, in which the school bus driver does not see the children. 

Gloria Buley of Shokan, N.Y., a small hamlet near Woodstock, is a caterer by trade, and a Culinary Institute of America graduate. In 1999, in order to supplement her income, she took a part-time job as a school bus driver. During her required training course, she learned about these accidents. Ever since, she has been intent on doing something to solve this problem and eliminate this tragic cause of death.

School buses have side mirrors in the front of the bus, but these leave blind spots, particularly on the right side, near the wheels. Gloria began work on inventing a product that would eliminate these blind spots.

Over the next four years she worked day and night to come up with a solution. She developed a variety of designs involving motors, pulleys, gears, cranks and mirrors of all types and sizes. She had to contend with the product's weight, ease of use, reliability, cost, the outside elements including wind and snow, and vandalism.

The results of her efforts was a mechanical structure with a foldout convex mirror that mounts on the rear right side of the school bus. When unfolded, it provides a wide panoramic view of the entire right side area of the school bus from front to back, including the tires and wheel wells, where many of the deaths occur. There's also a stop sign on the back of the device, which deters traffic from illegally passing the bus on the right, something that's quite common in rural areas. The driver peers into the outside front right-side mirror, and sees a full view of the right side of the bus through the new rear convex mirror.

Little did Buley know that coming up with the idea would be the easiest part.

Finally in 2003, after four years of effort and at a cost of $950,000, financed by mortgaging her home and loans from family and friends, she was ready to unveil her life-saving invention. She had purchased an out-of-service school bus for her development work, and, using her brother's flatbed trailer, hauled the bus from New York to a convention in Salt Lake City of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, an organization that works to provide safe transportation for school children.

Buley set up her bus in the convention hall with her invention attached and demonstrated it to the attendees. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Bus companies and school officials recognized the impact the product would have.

Responding to their feedback and suggestions, she continued to refine and test her design, and in 2004 incorporated as the Woodstock Safety Mirror Company. She applied for and received seven patents.

However, as she next learned, she was still a long way from being able to sell and commercialize the product. She next had to work with three government agencies that were responsible for school bus safety: New York State's Department of Transportation, the New York DMV, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). Over the next two years, she met with the agencies and worked to convince them of the invention's value. That was a long excruciating process, filled with bureaucratic obstacles, slow responses and conflicting rules among the agencies. One of her big frustrations was that the agencies didn't communicate with each other, slowing her down even more.

She appealed for help from her senators and representatives. The one person who came to her assistance was Congressman Maurice D. Hinchey. He helped her navigate the obstacles and has supported her efforts over the past six years, including writing letters and attending meetings on her behalf.

At last, in 2006 she received a go-ahead from the agencies, not to sell the product, but just to allow her to conduct a pilot test program. By now she had gone through $1.5 million.

For the past five years she's been testing, refining, and re-engineering the product to satisfy all of the regulations and new performance requirements imposed by the agencies. She's gone through three engineering companies and now, finally, has a design tht meets all of the regulations, works perfectly, and can be sold at an affordable price.

And at long last, the proposed rule (MTV-48-100005-P) that permits installation of a right side stop arm or a right-side arm and convex mirror assembly is on Governor Coumo's desk awaiting his signature.

You might think that during all these years, filled with huge setbacks and taking on enormous  financial burdens, Buley might have become tired and bitter and have given up.  But she's been just the opposite. She continues to be upbeat and appreciative to all of those who helped her financially, her family and friends, to the employees in the agencies that took up her cause, and to her Congressman.  Being able to do something that will prevent the deaths of more children is what has kept her going.

What's next? In addition to the $3.1 million she's already spent, she now needs to raise more capital to manufacture and market the first 2000 units.

Buley can be reached at Wdsksafetymir@aol.com.

Phil Baker is a product development consultant, author of "From Concept to Consumer", and the technology correspondent for The San Diego Daily Transcript. His Website is www.techspertsinc.com, and his email is pbaker@gmail.com.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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