Thursday, 19 February 2009

Bus drivers' skills kept sharp

Original Article - Arizona Star

oe Riggs, a school bus driver for the Marana district, could afford to laugh it off when he crashed into an SUV — it wasn't real.
School bus driver Joe Riggs burst into laughter when he hit an SUV.
Riggs, 64, wasn't at the wheel of his 40-foot-long bus when he hit the other vehicle. He was sharpening his skills in a white trailer equipped with a bus-driving simulation system. Seventy-five Marana Unified School District bus drivers, including Riggs, received one hour of training last week in the driving simulator.

"It's a good training system," Riggs said. "Every driver should have access to a simulator at one time or another." Training concentrated on safe and proper turning techniques and the appropriate use of mirrors.

"There's a lot of blind spots because of the size of the bus, and if drivers are aware of how to use those mirrors, it greatly helps them," said Dean Humphrey, a senior loss-control consultant for the Arizona School Risk Retention Trust Inc., which provided the simulator.

Also known as the Trust, the group provides insurance to Arizona public schools, including Marana, and to community colleges. Marana paid nothing for the one-week use of the mobile simulator.

Humphrey's goal is to train between 2,600 and 2,800 bus drivers all across the state this year. He said about 7,000 school bus drivers are working in Arizona.
Amphitheater, Flowing Wells, Sahuarita and Sunnyside school district bus drivers also will receive training sometime this year, Humphrey said. And he's trying to schedule a training session with the Tucson Unified School District.
"We want to provide a different delivery system for training that's cost-effective as well as effective," Humphrey said.

Dean Humphrey brought the simulator for the drivers to use. "There's a lot of blind spots because of the size of the bus, and if drivers are aware of how to use those mirrors, it greatly helps them," he said.
When Riggs hit the simulated sport utility vehicle, he was practicing his defensive-driving skills on a course in which vehicles dart into the path of the bus.
Drivers sit in front of four screens in a driver's seat that's equipped with all the functions of an actual school bus.

They operate the driving simulator from their point of view and can travel through city, freeway or rural courses. Defensive-driving techniques also can be practiced on skills courses.

"It is great," Riggs said about the driving simulator. "It doesn't teach you, of course, how to drive, but it does make you rely on and learn to use your mirrors more often than you might. And to drive more defensively."
Driving a school bus is the retired stockbroker's second career, but Riggs does have some experience operating large vehicles. Riggs and his wife sold their belongings in Homer, Alaska, four years ago and bought a motor home.
"This gave me a good way to get back to motor home driving, which I dearly loved," Riggs said.

Marana bus drivers viewed the training as an opportunity to hone their skills. They know how important their job is, and additional training will help them be better drivers.

"I think it's great. It's different. I was skeptical," school bus driver Toni Keepers said. "It lets us see what we're doing. It's a different look."
She has driven a school bus for nearly 12 years. She said there's more to the job than driving.

Keepers, 52, doesn't leave the bus yard until she checks the fluid levels on her bus, thoroughly checks the exterior and interior of her bus, and fuels up.
"I take better care of my bus than I do my own car," she said.

No comments: