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Driving instructors: Control freaks need not apply

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I recently reconnected with a friend from college who is a driving instructor.  As old friends do, we “friended” each other on Facebook.  Watching my many safety related posts she apparently saw in me, a budding driving instructor and asked if I had ever considered the profession.

My first instinct was one of complete terror. Maybe not quite the same emotions a Marine feels when they hurl themselves into combat, but somewhere towards that end of the spectrum.  You see, and I know this will shock you, I am a control freak.  Voluntarily strapping yourself into a car controlled by an eager teenager, barely alive as long as I’ve been married, requires bravery that the rest of us only aspire to.

But what about training new bus drivers?  If you live in Seattle you may have seen buses signed up as “Training Coach – No Passengers” with 4 or 5 people on it.  Budding bus drivers are all over 21, have a verified safe driving record, and have been through an interview process.  Despite that, Metro’s coach trainers get into a 40 foot bus with 3 trainees, who have basically driven around the training yard once or twice before heading out onto the road.  There are no seatbelts for passengers and there is no second brake pedal.  In short, other than voice commands, the instructor has very little control over the bus.

During my training session, Metro was having a “train the trainer” day.  Each coach had a 2nd supervisor who was learning the ropes.  The new instructor on my bus was about to get a lesson in just how terrifying driving instruction can be.  Training coaches routinely ply the #1 route on Queen Anne which has one spot with a telephone pole right on the edge of the road at corner which provides limited clearance.  You *really* need to watch the ride side clearance driving through here.  I had ridden the #1 bus frequently so I was very familiar with this spot.  When we headed towards this point with another trainee behind the wheel, I pictured this potential hazard.  Since I was effectively a passenger at this point I had to suppress my inner control freak.  I shifted my position in the bus and forced myself to be quiet – no backseat driving.

As we approached the pinch point pictured above, the trainer was calmly guiding the driver.  “Ok, keep an eye on your speed.  Watch your right side clearance”.  Being new to driving a bus, these were very common phrases to hear.  It takes a while to get the feel for the width of a bus and how close objects are on the right side.  “Ok, we’re coming to a turn so you’ll want to slow down a bit.  Watch your right side clearance” – the instructor says.  This particular instructor, formerly a trolley driver, has driven this route many times and knows *exactly* what is coming.  I can hear the tone in his voice changing – he’s becoming concerned.  Our speed is decreasing as we come up to the turn, but not enough for either the instructor or me.  I dig my fingernails into the vinyl seats and hear “Ok, slow down!” as the bus enters the turn, probably a bit faster than I’d drive my car at this point.  We weren’t speeding but for a new driver in a tight spot we were going too fast.   It was at this point that the trainee instructor reached his “tipping point or terror”.  The next words out of his mouth were “JESUS CHRIST!!!”

By some miracle, the right side of the bus clears the telephone pole – no collision, mirror still intact.  But the driver realized she did something wrong, slowed WAY down, and came to a stop at the next bus zone, less than half a block away.  The instructor has all of us get out of the bus and walk back to the where the telephone pole is to talk about right side clearance – A perfect teachable moment and a nice recovery.  If I ever do go into supervision I will do my best to NEVER sign up for coach training.  How about you?  Ready to teach other people to drive?

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  1. January 24, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I took me a long time to decide to get my driver’s license (I was 21, and needed it just before student teaching). Since then, I’ve had one accident (ruled “no fault”, but it was probably a newbie mistake on my part…).
    That said, I’ve been asked to teach a handful of cousins, friends, etc how to drive after their parents have all but given up. There’s no way in h*ll you’d get me to drive a bus, let alone teach others how to do it, though!
    Good luck!

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