Seeing the driver's view

Thomas McMahon
Posted on July 7, 2011

At the end of March, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) set out on an unusual trip.

Deborah A.P. Hersman departed on a two-day, four-state journey from Washington, D.C., to Louisville, Ky., with the stated goal of getting “a cab’s-eye view of the commercial truck industry.”

The chairman was traveling to the Mid-America Truck Show, where she would take part in the second annual Women in Trucking “Salute to Women Behind the Wheel” event.

Hersman’s journey, which began at the NTSB headquarters in D.C., had her riding alongside five different professional big-rig drivers.

“I’m excited to join these drivers for a real-world view of the challenges they face every day on the road,” Hersman said before the trip. “The skill and professionalism drivers bring to the job are essential to maintaining the highest level of safety on our nation’s highways.”

As I read about the expedition, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Hersman might take part in a similar experience in a yellow school bus.

Industry ties
Hersman is certainly no stranger to the pupil transportation industry. She has served as the NTSB’s representative at the 2006 school bus crash in Huntsville, Ala., and the 2005 collision of a school bus with a trash truck in Arlington, Va., among other major accidents.

When she was named chairman of the NTSB in 2009, it was noted that her credentials include a CDL with a school bus endorsement and certification as a child passenger safety technician.

Still, Hersman riding along on a morning school bus run would be an excellent way to highlight the professionalism that school bus drivers embody as well as the challenges that they face behind the wheel. It could attract some positive media coverage for the industry, as did U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s participation in a Love the Bus event in February.

An invaluable experience
Ride-alongs can also be a great way for local officials and others to get a better understanding of school transportation systems.

For example, a few years ago the mayor of Michigan City, Ind., joined a bus driver as he transported high school students. The mayor said that he learned, among other things, about bus drivers stopping and opening the door at railroad crossings to look and listen for approaching trains.

In 2003, I had an intriguing opportunity to ride along on a yellow bus. I was writing an article about a day in the life of a medically fragile student, 5-year-old Jordan Forster.

The experience opened my eyes to just how much goes into the special-needs transportation process. I witnessed firsthand the dedication of everyone involved — bus drivers, aides, transportation administrators, parents and Jordan herself. I also got to see how important the bus was in Jordan’s education.

That encounter, which took place in my first year on the job with SBF, didn’t just result in an interesting article — it helped shape my career as a pupil transportation reporter.

Related Topics: NTSB

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
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