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April 1, 2011

How to improve bus operator reaction time

by Louie Maiello - Also by this author

A discussion about bus operator reaction time will no doubt bring many different opinions on its definition. There are formulas to come up with reaction time and, maybe I'm the lone wolf on this subject, but breaking down the science of reaction time for bus operators is something I did not spend much time doing. Allow me to share with you something that I feel is of greater importance, the "Adverse Reaction Tip Off!" 

As training professionals, we don't believe that collisions, knockdowns and on-board injuries just happen. For every incident on the road, there is usually a warning or a tip-off. Identifying this tip-off comes with experience. There are many of them, but let's look at a few:

1) A vehicle stopped at the intersection to the left of the bus with front tires pointed a bit to the right and/or the driver of that vehicle looking to the right at the cross street.

2) A pedestrian walking right-side same direction of bus wearing headphones or talking on the cell phone.

3) A curbside pedestrian waving his or her hand in the direction of the bus.

4) A ball rolling into the street.

5) Visible exhaust, brake lights, or a front tire moving left or right from a parked vehicle.

These are just a few that student/veteran operators must identify. Why not add to this list and compile them into a nice handout for distribution to your operators.  

Case #1: The operator failed to read the tip-off and accelerated with the auto rather than pause two seconds to allow the vehicle to turn from left to right across the path of the bus. Avoid the abrupt braking and on-board injuries, and expect the left-to-right move by the vehicle whenever in this position.

Case #2:  If the operator has not created a space cushion between the curb and his/her bus and fails to cover the brake in anticipation of a 'step out' into the roadway by a pedestrian, he or she has not identified the tip-off. Sounding the horn is not the solution; it won't reduce the speed of the bus. Sounding the horn can have purpose as a communication tool after you have removed your foot from the accelerator and placed it over the brake pedal should a stop be necessary.

Case #3: The person waving his or her hand may be hailing a taxi that may be not yet be visible to the operator. Read this waving hand by the pedestrian as a tip-off alert that momentarily there may be a vehicle making an abrupt stop in the bus path. The immediate actions that should occur include taking the foot off the accelerator, placing it over the brake and checking the mirrors.

Case #4: The easiest of all to identify — a ball rolling into the street, possibly being followed by a child.

Case #5: There can be several 'parked' vehicle-related tip-offs to identify. Increased 'eye lead' time will make this possible and give the operator the edge to see it early, and then react early.

What do you think? Am I a lone wolf, or do you share my views? Let me know. Share your own tip-offs here in the Comments section and we will see if we get enough for you to copy and paste as a student handout.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "OCTA CEO: Sales tax program delivers success to voters and transit" here.



Louie Maiello

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  • Keith Charles Edwards[ April 2nd, 2011 @ 5:05pm ]

    I was always ready for these scenarios and more like them when I first learned to drive. I am still ready. Others laugh at me because I practice defensive driving. You speak my language. Keith Charles Edwards Brooklyn, NY

  • John Fabian[ April 4th, 2011 @ 12:16pm ]

    Mr. Maiello, Please allow me to add to your list: 1. The passenger standing at the farebox trying to pay the fare AND NOT HOLDING ON. 2. The unsecured customer with a disability on a route with many left and right turns. 3. A cell phone in the hands of anyone in sight! 4. A messenger riding a bike approaching the bus in traffic from the rear. 5. A tour bus in traffic at 4am. A good bet the driver is at the end of the shift rather than a fresh start. 6. A tow operator with yellow light flashing with no vehicle hooked up. May be in a hurry to make the call or veer/brake suddenly when the target vehicle is spotted. 7. Friday/Saturday night in any college town USA.

  • Louie Maiello[ April 4th, 2011 @ 1:41pm ]

    Mr. Fabian, It appears we now have the makings of a "Tip Off" handout that can be added to a training curriculum. I hope you encouraged more readers to add to the list. Thank you for your input.

  • Jan van Eck[ April 6th, 2011 @ 7:18am ]

    Since this is sourced in NYC, how about this one: Northbound on Madison waiting at red on 42nd,watch for the SUV with the Jersey plates that will make the right turn from three lanes out, peeling out as the light changes! (Had this happen to me twice, same intersection, at night).

  • Billy Cameron[ April 9th, 2011 @ 9:30am ]

    Lou. While many are just five miles from me enjoying a nice Saturday baseball game between my Red Sox and your Yankees, I am at work about to train new hire in the simulator. This segment is about Defensive Driving techniques. In my opening remarks I have the students envision being hired together,have the same Instructor throughout training, and work out of the same garage together. After five years, their accident folders will differ from each other. What is it that seperates the driver with little or no accidents from the driver that has several in it's folder? The answer of course is the ability to recognize the "Tip Off", anticipate the the actions of the hazard, and avoid the accident. Some have it, some don't. It is up to us as Instructors to train the Operators to have that instinct to recognize the "Tip Off." .......Now if I could just get my wife to do the same.

  • Paul Patterson[ April 11th, 2011 @ 8:21am ]

    Out of town plates slowing at each intersection with no signal then accelearting to next one. Obviously lost, expect anything, he's not watching for traffic or you. Our rule 1) Safe 2) Smooth 3) Timely , in that order.

  • Walter Orlowski[ April 28th, 2011 @ 3:25am ]

    ("Anticipation" "What If") When you hand out TIPS they are read and usually thrown away or left on the desk.Annual training should be giving to the drivers and those TIPS might be part of a class discussion. So look at you training program and convince your organization the importance of a annual event.

  • Louie Maiello[ June 2nd, 2011 @ 2:15pm ]

    Thanks to all of you for commenting and providing some great additional "Tip Offs." Recognizing, Understanding and Acting Correctly, will make for safer operations. You can thank yourselves for that.


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Author Bio

Joyce Rose

President/CEO, Operation Lifesaver Inc.

Joyce Rose is President and CEO of Operation Lifesaver Inc., a national, non-profit safety education group whose goal is to eliminate deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along railroad rights-of-way.

Steve Mentzer

Manager, Transit Simulations, Training & Courseware, L-3 D.P. Associates

Steve Mentzer is manager, transit simulations, training & courseware, at L-3 D.P. Associates.

Louie Maiello

Louie Maeillo is a Sr. Consultant (Transit Training & Simulation), L-3 / DPA Independent Consultant, Bus Talk Surface Transit Solutions

Jason Palmer

President, SmartDrive Systems

Palmer is the president of SmartDrive Systems, a leader in providing comprehensive, video-based operator performance and safety programs to help transit agencies achieve operational safety and efficiency, protect operators and the public, and lower costs overall.

Barak Israel

product manager

Barak Israel is product marketing manager for the security domain for NICE Systems Inc.

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