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October 01, 2004  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Impaired driver ahead

by Steve Hirano


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At 2:30 p.m., Sarah learned that her soon-to-be ex-husband had drained her bank account of everything she had saved over the 10 years of her rocky marriage. Three minutes later, she started her afternoon middle-school route.

Furious, she pounded the steering wheel, gunned the engine and roared out of the bus yard. En route to the middle school, she swerved from lane to lane and forced two motorists to jam on their brakes to avoid a collision.

By the time she arrived at the school for her pick-up, she had calmed down a bit, but a couple of the more rowdy passengers reignited her temper.

“Shut up back there!” she shouted. “Or you can walk the rest of the way home.” As she finished the sentence, Sarah narrowly averted rear-ending a car stopped at a traffic light. The students on her bus, emboldened by her miscue, whistled and clapped.

This only enraged Sarah further. It took all of her self-control to finish the run without causing an accident or attacking her passengers. Fortunately, she arrived back at the bus yard safely and drove home without incident. Impaired but not drunk

When we think of impaired driving, we usually assume there are drugs or alcohol involved. That’s obviously not always the case, though.

As we swing fully into the 2004-05 school year, I’d like to caution that impaired drivers can also include people who are angry, nervous, confused or otherwise distracted. In a post-accident investigation, blood alcohol or drug tests won’t tag these people as impaired, but they can be just as dangerous as a drunk or drug-addled driver.

This isn’t a ground-breaking observation, of course. I learned about it at a Smith System workshop. I’m sure that most of you are already aware of it.

But it doesn’t hurt to put out a reminder. Supervisors need to use their judgment, observation skills and training to identify — and shelve — drivers who might be too upset to safely handle their routes. Sometimes you need to be a psychologist as well as a manager. If you suspect that someone is having an unusually bad day, you should pull him aside and ask him what the problem is.

In addition to listening to him, you should observe his body language. If he’s normally calm and still but is now fidgeting and clenching and unclenching his fists, that’s an ominous sign.

His manner of speaking is important, too. If he’s talking much faster (or slower) than normal, then you should be concerned. Although the admitted problem may sound minor, like a flat tire on the drive to work, it may disguise an underlying crisis, like a financial predicament that has been exacerbated by the need to replace the punctured tire as well as its three other bald mates.

Explore your options

Now you’ve got a real problem. You’ve got a man who needs money badly, but he may not be safe to put behind the wheel of a school bus so he can earn some. Your choice, of course, should not be influenced by his financial status. If your gut tells you that he’s too upset to drive, you can’t let him drive — a school bus or his own personal vehicle.

One solution is to allow him to earn some non-driving hours at the yard. Maybe he can wash buses or do some clerical work. If you’re lucky, by the time he’s ready to leave for home, he will be calm enough to drive safely.

The mistake you can’t afford to make is to allow an impaired driver on the road. It isn’t worth the risk, ever.

Being too upset to drive is a common occurrence and nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all been there. Our emotions make us human, but they also make us vulnerable. Be careful out there.


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