Defensive driving techniques are required training for school bus drivers. These techniques are designed to save lives, time, and money for bus fleets. As a transportation director or school administrator, it is your job to ensure your drivers are always ready for what lies ahead. Drivers must know how to identify, avoid, and respond to hazards, all while their school bus is in operation.
Do your training materials offer comprehensive guidance on defensive driving?
To comply with state and federal training recommendations, bus safety personnel need to implement a training course that identifies key issues and takes a comprehensive approach to defensive driving.
The Smith System, long used for defensive driving training in the transportation industry, is an easy-to-understand, easy-to-use technique. We’ll cover the five major points to this system below.
Aim high in steering
This concept encourages drivers to increase their awareness of where they are on the road, and to scan 20 to 30 seconds down the road to assess the terrain they are about to cover. This provides the driver with a cushion of time and space to react defensively if road congestion or other hazards lie ahead. By focusing their attention down the road, drivers can proactively adjust their following distance, stay to the center of the lane, and maintain a side-to-side visual of traffic around the bus. A habit of higher attentiveness leads to fewer surprises.
Get the big picture
Just like the concept of aiming high while steering, getting the big picture means visually understanding the traffic scene down the road, and for the entire width of the roadway. Drivers should watch for hazards such as pedestrians, visual blocks such as hills and curves, and issues with inclement weather. When their visual field is blocked for any reason, it is essential for drivers to widen their following distance, slow the bus, and increase concentration until full view can be restored.
Keep your eyes moving
It is essential that all of your bus drivers are educated to constantly scan the road, intersections, and traffic on all sides of the vehicle. Be sure that your drivers are always scanning traffic lanes every two seconds, and using their mirrors properly. Continued scanning of their environment supports situational awareness in all kinds of traffic, and eliminates fixed-stare driving.
Leave yourself an out
With enough following space, and a proper understanding of the big picture, drivers are more likely to have an escape route if a hazard suddenly threatens one side of the bus. Drivers with poor driving habits, such as those who drive too fast, can quickly find themselves without a favorable option in the event of an emergency.
Make sure they see you
Despite the color and length of a school bus, drivers in other vehicles are not always aware that a school bus may be pulling away from the curb, pulling over to the side of the road to let the motorist pass, or to pick up or drop off passengers. Bus drivers must always make sure their vehicles are seen by other drivers. Mounted lights, horns, signals, and brake taps are all tools that help raise awareness that a school bus is on the road.
Some other components that a defensive driving training course might include:
Blow-outs: How to properly handle a sudden tire emergency
Winter driving: Tips and best practices for snowy and icy driving condition
Mirror usage: Proper use and adjustment of mirrors for maximum visual field can make a big difference in defensive driving
Students with special needs: Understanding the practices and protocols for transporting children with special needs is essential
Night driving: How to drive safely in dusk and darkness, including the use of lights and signaling, as well as to take caution with fatigue
Defensive driving saves lives. Whether your employees are veteran bus operators, or newly licensed drivers, you should offer appropriate training before and during each school year.