Motorcoach Operators See Benefits from Diverse Driver Training Options

Posted on August 13, 2009 by Claire Atkinson, Senior Editor

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Along with the kind of behind-the-wheel training motorcoach operators typically offer new hires, many other training options are available, from online classes drivers can take at their own pace to driving simulators that allow trainees to experience emergency scenarios, preparing them for the worst.

In addition, aftermarket driver monitoring systems can provide drivers with constant reminders to drive safely and supervisors with notification of skills that need improvement or trouble spots along routes.

Training options for members

The first stop for many motorcoach operators seeking professional, affordable training for drivers is the American Bus Association (ABA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), both of which offer training opportunities for members.

ABA members are eligible to receive a 15-percent discount on Online Defensive Driver Training courses through Daecher Consulting Group. Courses are available on such topics as backing, driver medical qualifications, intersection safety, passing and lane changing, pedestrian safety and motorcoach space management.

ABA's Bus Industry Safety Council, whose members serve on committees on human performance and vehicle technical operations, also provides training and safety products and evaluates those already available in the marketplace.

In September 2007, UMA established an online distance learning system through the College of Southern Maryland called the Bus and Motorcoach Academy. Executive Director Ken Presley says the academy is divided into two schools, one for company owners or managers with more of a business management focus, and another for drivers.

For owners and managers, courses include business and marketing, financial management, human resources, and safety and compliance. After completing all five courses, they receive a diploma and Accredited Passenger Transportation Operator (APTO) designation. The business track, known as the Clarence Cornell School of Business, was established with the help of a donation from ABC Bus Companies, which was founded by Cornell.

"There seemed to be a consensus in the industry that while a lot of operators had operational experience, they didn't always have access to the business knowledge and acumen they needed to raise their businesses to a higher level," Presley says. "It was only at a time when online learning became popular that we could deliver those classrooms to people where they could access them in their downtime."

Drivers also take five online courses, including driver qualification, vehicle maintenance, safety driving, passenger issues and security. For UMA members, classes cost $139 each, or packages are available for $599. For non-members, each class costs $199.

The classes are available through an interactive Web platform, allowing students to learn at their own pace. "It allows any students participating in a course to go in and have chat rooms together and discuss things, or they can broaden that and include the course developer," Presley says. "While there is a structured time period for when the course will begin and end, they're free to log in any time they like."

Helping avoid collisions

The Smith System, well-known throughout the transit and transportation industries, is comprised of five key principles for "space cushion driving" and collision avoidance, including aiming high in steering, getting the big picture, keeping your eyes moving, leaving yourself an out and making sure they see you.

"We call them advanced driving techniques," says Jim Smith, vice president of training. "It is defensive in that we pro-act to avoid reactionary driving, which is when you have the best chance of crashing, especially in a large vehicle like a motorcoach. It's not like you're in a Honda, where you can zip in between cars to avoid a problem. You've got to plan out your moves in traffic for the stability of the equipment."

Established in 1952 by Howard Smith, the company currently provides training in this method via classroom and on-road instruction, online classes, videos and DVDs available in multiple languages.

Smith System instructors typically come to motorcoach companies to teach their trainers, Smith says. Included with the training is a slideshow presentation and manual that trainers can use in subsequently delivering Smith System concepts to the drivers.

Most of the training is done on the road behind the wheel, Smith says. While classroom time provides the foundation for on-road training, he says, "where people really find out that they have bad habits is out on the road. The trainer sitting next to them can point out something they're doing wrong, and they gain hands-on knowledge."

Smith adds that one customer realized a 47-percent reduction in collisions in the first three years and an 80-percent reduction of inside-the-vehicle liability claims from passengers after drivers were trained in the Smith System.

"We also have to think about fuel usage and wear and tear on the vehicle," Smith says. "Tires, transmission, engine and brake life are all extended because we use the vehicle differently than the average driver," he continues. He says that Smith System drivers are able to provide a better and safer ride to passengers, as well as improved fuel economy and lower insurance costs due to reduced collisions.

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