One-on-one training, evaluations
Smith System classroom training features slideshow presentations and videos to teach concepts and target audio and visual learning, Smith says. Then kinesthetic learning takes place in one-on-one, on-road sessions. "They get to hear it and see it as they're doping it, and for retention purposes, it's the best way to go," he says. "It allows us to see that the individual has got it, and we can fine tune a person's understanding through a visual evaluation of their performance." As Smith puts it, trainers need to see what the driver is doing and make them aware when a fix is needed.
McDonald believes trainers should make behind-the-wheel evaluations of every driver on an annual basis and provide skilled coaching. Thinking Driver can make such evaluations, he says. "We also train instructors so the districts can have that expertise in-house."
The psychological component
Thinking Driver's courses also address the psychological aspect of driving behavior. A driver's internal process, meaning his or her thoughts and feelings, affect his or her emotional state, which in turn affect driving behavior, McDonald says. Or to put it simply, an angry driver is a dangerous driver. "You may go faster, you may be more inclined to run yellow lights, you may be more aggressive," McDonald says. "We provide drivers with tools to understand how these things affect them and how they can do a self-intervention. So that's why we call our company Thinking Driver," he says.
The program also teaches drivers to avoid emotional reactions to the driving behavior of other motorists. "You can choose, if somebody moves their car in front of you, to interpret that as a hostile action and then feel a strong urge to retaliate," McDonald explains. "Or you can interpret that as a driver who isn't particularly skilled and they've made an error in judging space as they made a lane change."
Because everyone has made mistakes like this, McDonald asks drivers to cut people slack when they make mistakes instead of escalating the situation by reacting angrily. "We are not going to change the behavior of anybody else around us on the road," he says. Better to not let that bad driving behavior affect your own attitude and behavior. "Being able to emotionally self-manage is a huge piece of the school bus driver's job," he says.
The reduction in accidents speaks for the success of Brevard District Schools' defensive driving program. "When we first introduced it, we were not sure how the drivers would react to it," Connors says. "The feedback we got was very positive. The drivers appreciated it and, as borne out by the decrease in accidents, we have a safer and more efficient school bus operation."
Drivers also found an additional benefit in completing the training, Reese reports. "I gave them a certificate when they completed the classroom and behind-the-wheel training. They were taking it to their insurance companies, and they've been receiving 10 to 15 percent off their insurance," she says.
Smith says that the way in which a defensive driving training program is delivered is important. "Since we're dealing with adults, they've got to buy in at a personal level for tomorrow, when you're not with them," he says. "You've got to inspire them enough today so that tomorrow they're going to work on it."