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August 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Defensive Driving Requires Attention to Detail

An increase in the frequency of minor accidents should be closely scrutinized. Transportation managers need to double-check their training programs and procedures to ensure proper emphasis on defensive driving.

by Michael Dallessandro

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A good test for your drivers is to look straight out of the windshield. Imagine a line similar to a line in an old pair of bifocal glasses in the windshield of your bus. As your drivers operate their vehicles, they should pay close attention to the amount of time they look over the imaginary line on the windshield and the amount of time they look below it. If they are looking below the imaginary line more than they are looking above it, they may not be scanning far enough ahead and not often enough.

If you have any input into the maintenance of your vehicles, it is also important to make sure heaters and defrosters work properly. Many drivers of large commercial vehicles, especially those that are parked inside and suddenly exit the garage, experience fog-up situations.

Also, be sure your vehicles have good-quality wipers at all times and that rain-shedding products are regularly applied to windshields.

In regard to visibility, drivers should be alert to the cues of possible problems from other motorists. Beware of cars with out-of-state license plates. These vehicles may come from states with different school bus-related traffic laws. In addition, the drivers of these vehicles might be lost and make unexpected stops and turns that could cause your vehicle to become involved in a fender bender.

Don’t get distracted
By now we all know that drinking and driving is completely unacceptable, especially for drivers of commercial vehicles. We are also clearly aware of how impaired our actions can become even if we have consumed just a few drinks.

So, why would we do things while driving that would cause our bodies to mimic behaviors as if we had been drinking? Our commercial vehicles are equipped with switches, gauges, high-tech devices and two-way radios. Whenever we take our attention off the road to operate switches, tune radio channels or reach for two-way radio microphones, we divert our attention from the road to the radio or accessory. By taking your eyes off the road, even partially, you can cause your vehicle to drift from side to side, run over something or hit another vehicle.

Only take your attention off the road to operate a vital accessory. To simply grab the microphone and say, “See you back at the garage,” is a needless and risky communication.

Avoid backing
Relatively speaking, commercial drivers spend very little time driving in reverse, but they incur a disproportionate number of accidents while backing the vehicle.

That’s why drivers should always try to anticipate their exit from any area and try to minimize any backing. The driver or spotters should always walk around the vehicle prior to backing and limit the backing to the shortest distance possible. While we do not often build new terminals, when the opportunity presents itself, we should make every effort to build bays that have drive-through facilities for our buses or commercial vehicles.

Keep the fires burning
Hopefully an ounce of prevention can help reduce your drivers’ exposure to the risks of inattention, backing or lack of preparation for unexpected situations.

I hope you will spend at least a few moments discussing these items at an upcoming safety meeting or add them to a department memo. I am one of those who believe that small incidents are an indicator of larger incidents to come if we do not intervene and remind our drivers to think about what they are doing.

Michael Dallessandro is transportation supervisor at Lake Shore (N.Y.) Central School District and a frequent contributor to SCHOOL BUS FLEET Magazine.


Smith System safety principles

The widely known Smith System safety training program for professional drivers is based on the notion that most collisions are preventable if the right driving habits are learned, practiced and consistently applied.

The Smith System bases its success on core principles known as the Five Keys of Space Cushion Driving:

1. Aim high in steering.
2. Get the big picture.
3. Keep your eyes moving.
4. Leave yourself an out.
5. Make sure they see you.

For more information about the Smith System, visit


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