Whether in sports, business or elsewhere, competition is commonly considered a good thing. It pushes us to innovate, to be efficient, to be the best we can be.

Applying that concept to the pupil transportation industry, you might first think of the school bus manufacturers or other equipment suppliers. But in another way, competition helps pupil transportation professionals become the best they can be.

Every year, school bus drivers, attendants and technicians engage in contests that help them hone their abilities and learn more about their jobs.

Later this month, top school bus drivers from the U.S. and Canada will convene in St. Louis for the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition. The event, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, includes a written exam and a behind-the-wheel test of driving skills.

The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) hosts the event each year in conjunction with its annual convention (details here). As NSTA notes, besides allowing drivers to sharpen their skills, the competition attracts positive media coverage for the school bus industry.

Angel DeSousa of Tremblay Bus Co. in Massachusetts came up with a slogan for this year’s competition that nicely evokes its importance: “Still Thriving Towards Driving Safely.”

Another key competition in the industry is the National Special Needs Team Safety Roadeo. Competitors here are judged in driving and backing a bus; loading, unloading and securing students in wheelchairs; and conducting an evacuation.

During the skills events, teams must maintain behavioral control of special-needs students on the bus. There is also a written test that teams — which consist of a driver and an attendant — must complete.

The 14th edition of the roadeo, which is managed by Edupro Group and the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and hosted by the Transporting Students With Disabilities and Preschoolers event, will be March 11-13, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo.

On the maintenance side, school bus technicians and inspectors get a chance to test their talents in NAPT’s annual America’s Best competition.

Contestants are scored on both written examinations and hands-on portions. The exam covers technical aspects of various school bus components, including electrical systems, brakes, engines, suspensions, drivetrains and body systems.

The 7th edition of America’s Best will be held Sept. 28 through Oct. 1 in Jasper, Ind.

Each time around, these national competitions are preceded by state and local level contests, so school bus professionals across the nation are challenging themselves and each other to be at the top of their game.

And it’s not just about competition. The events also include top-notch training sessions. For example, the driver competition in St. Louis will offer a program on the stranded-pupil problem.

All who compete or otherwise get involved in these vital events are to be commended for their part in advancing pupil transportation. If your drivers, attendants or technicians have yet to venture into competition, encourage them to give it a shot.