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Driver training must include vehicle dynamics

By Matthew A. Daecher

I don’t know of many bus company owners who wouldn’t agree that we expect a lot out of bus drivers. My occasional attempts to precisely define and produce a job description of a bus driver have reinforced my belief of this. While this list of duties can vary depending on the system or type of transportation, it definitely has a common core inherent in any driver position for any passenger carrier. My results have ranged in length from anywhere from one to three pages of descriptive duties.

I recall a similar list the Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) developed. After the committee had scribed a long list of duties, one participant spoke up, “Don’t forget about driving the coach.” Funny but true.

After all, driving the company vehicle without wrecking it is certainly one of those core driver responsibilities. A preventable crash is likely to result in some type of discipline, additional training or a combination of both.

While driver training practices vary widely, consideration of the fleet’s vehicle often seems to be lost on management. This is most obvious to smaller operations growing from smaller fleet vehicles into larger ones, such as limousine and shuttle van operations that often acquire minibuses as the next logical step in the move to larger vehicles.

Called on to drive the larger vehicle, the driver learns from experience that larger vehicles handle differently than smaller ones. This learning experience often comes with various dings, scrapes and property damage – call it Vehicle Dynamics 101.

The first step for a company in this transition is getting properly licensed drivers to operate the new class of vehicle — those with commercial driver licenses (CDLs). Companies typically do not hire a new driver but instead have one of their current drivers acquire the proper license to operate the larger vehicle. What inevitably occurs, even after the driver acquires a CDL, is they use the larger vehicle less often while operating the smaller company vehicles more regularly.

Within a short time these multiple-class vehicle drivers have adapted and managed to reduce collisions as they relate to vehicle dynamics. They come to understand that most vehicles operate much the same when accelerating forward, but significantly different when turning and backing. As drivers grow more capable of compensating, they are acutely aware of the differences as they switch from a smaller vehicle to a larger one. The same process may repeat itself when the company purchases its first motorcoach, though the learning curve is generally expected and not as steep.

This thought about drivers also applies to fleets with only full-size motorcoaches. There is more to vehicle dynamics than class and size. Much has to do with manufacturers and individual components. Turning radius, wheelbase, engines, transmissions and other factors all affect how a particular vehicle drives, which in turn affects how drivers operate the vehicle. I know of very few large or small fleets comprised entirely of the same make and model of vehicles. Understandably, most operators’ fleets consist of whichever buses happened to be the best deals available for the vehicle class they needed at the time. While it would be simpler to follow the Southwest Airlines model of only having one type of vehicle, reality is much different. Today’s bus companies’ fleets are a melting pot of assorted MCI, Prevost, Setra, Van Hool, Freightliner and Ford vehicles. Unfortunately for the all-motorcoach fleet, the issue of fleet dynamics and the role it can play in collisions is not as obvious as a fleet graduated makes and models. But it is just as critical due to the size differences in dynamics.

So, back to our list of driver duties: It’s a tall order to ask drivers to think about the specific vehicle they are driving each day and remember all its specific operating characteristics and dynamics. That said, management should help drivers understand the differences between vehicles  to limit the role of vehicle dynamics in collisions. BR

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Posted by on Sep 1 2012. Filed under Risk. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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