OAK FOREST, Ill. — Three school bus drivers who work for subsidiaries of contractor Cook-Illinois Corp. earned top honors at the Illinois School Bus Safety Roadeo championship in Sandwich on June 25.
David Jensen, who drives for Grand Prairie Transit, placed first in the competition’s semi-finals. Archie Banks, who transports special-needs children for Westway Coach, placed second. Jerry Heim, who drives for Illinois School Bus, placed third.
Jensen, Banks and Heim were sponsored by Cook-Illinois Corp., which hosted the roadeo, and received $1,500, $1,200 and $1,000 respectively for their achievements. They were also selected to advance to the more challenging statewide competition. (The winner was ultimately three-time champion Debra L’Abbe of First Student, who will advance to the national competition.)
The Illinois School Bus Safety Roadeo required contestants to compete in three different categories. The first was an evaluation of the driver’s efficiency in administering a pre-trip inspection of a bus.
Competitors also participated in 10 different driving skills challenges, including reversing, student loading, railroad crossing stops, parking alongside curbs, offset alley maneuvering and a measured right-hand turn. They were required to take a written driving test as well.
Jensen, Banks and Heim agree that a school bus driver’s job should not be taken lightly. “I drove a U.S. Postal Service truck for 30 years and have more experience driving than most,” Banks said. “However, transporting schoolchildren is so much more important than transporting mail. Drivers tend to use more skill and concentration when lives are on the line.”
“We take safety very seriously,” added Tom O’Sullivan, Cook-Illinois’ vice president. “Hosting the roadeo was another way to demonstrate that commitment, show off our drivers’ skills and have some fun with a little friendly competition.”
Cook-Illinois Corp. is the largest family-owned and operated school bus company in the state. In addition to Grand Prairie Transit, Westway Coach and Illinois School Bus, it operates 14 other school bus companies, officials said.