Bus and Motor Coach Library

The Need for an Industry Bus Driver Training Program

Authored by Carmen Daecher (2001)

Everyone agrees that motorcoach driver training is essential.  Motorcoach owners, insurance companies, government - everyone agrees training is important.  But, what kind of training should be done and when, and more important, to what standard?

Most insurance companies are not definitive in detailing the training they believe is necessary.  While they prepare videos and other training materials, they worry about their own risk if they leave something out from what they may define as a standard. 

Motorcoach operators have very strong feelings about training.  However, they vary widely, and are tempered by the pressures of preparing a new driver and maintaining tenured drivers for service.  After all, if the wheels aren't turning, who cares about training.

This writer has decided to take on the challenge!  I would like to propose a standard of training needed for motorcoach drivers.  Your scrutiny of this proposal, whether you agree or disagree, hopefully will help you assess and possibly redefine your training programs. 

I have had the good fortune of being part of the development of the Model Motorcoach Drivers Curriculum and presenting the pilot presentation of this training to prospective new drivers.  I have developed many training videos and have worked with a number of insurance companies to understand the relationship of training to accident reduction.  I have seen the results of improper training or the absence thereof through accident reconstruction and investigations throughout my career.  There is no doubt that training is of essential value.  But it must be thorough and effective. 

Some may question the need for training standards, or even the need for training at all!  More fundamental than the need for training is to answer the question “What type of training?” and, “What would be the training objectives?”  If these questions can be effectively answered, then it sets the stage for understanding the elements of training necessary and how it should be provided.

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that a motorcoach driver is much more than simply a driver.  He or she is not only the operator of a motorcoach, but also a public relations person, a marketing person, a customer service representative.  Being “professional” is much more than simply driving well.  Thus, any training program needs to encompass the knowledge and skills required to perform all of the various associated driving duties.

Aside from the content, the intent or objectives for training should also be clear to develop a comprehensive and effective program.  Basically, the objective of any training is to effectively provide and assist in the retention of necessary knowledge and skills associated with duties to be performed. 
This includes, of course, all regulatory information, but it also includes critical job performance information that is not regulatory in nature.  “Skills” are not just related to turning the wheel, but also include communication techniques, special needs passenger assistance, and other responsibilities.
To provide effective training geared towards maximum retention relates to technique as much as to content.  The style and delivery of the instructor; audio/visual assistance; live demonstrations; and hands-on practice are the key elements to achieve successful training.  Keeping as many of the human senses involved in the training experience as possible is a fundamental key to retention of information provided during training. 

A combination of classroom and “in the field” activities are necessary to produce the type of learning experience that will produce maximum retention.  In the classroom, the use of overheads, slides, videos, (yes even those Power Point presentations) can assist in effective training.  Interactive CD-ROMS or web based training is also very effective, but is structured for more of a one-on-one training experience rather than a classroom style training experience. 

Demonstrations and practice on actual equipment to be used is the “in the field” experience.  Parking lot and on the road demonstrations and practice is essential as part of effective training.

The trainer/facilitator is also very important in achieving the objectives of effective training that is retained.  A good, lively communication style and a thorough grasp of the content being delivered to students is fundamentally important.  If the trainer is boring, the whole experience becomes so.  Lastly, the environment of the classroom and the hands on locations must be conducive to allow a student to remain attentive.  Climate, lighting, student space, and seating arrangements are all important in achieving effective training.

What specific training and when?

The training program must be tailored to the particular needs of the coach operator.  For new candidates, a comprehensive training program is necessary.  For those already experienced, a hiree should undergo a thorough evaluation/testing program to ensure that knowledge and skills meet industry standards as well as company requirements.

Continuing learning programs  based upon the collective experience of operators in the company and individual training based upon correctable behaviors should be established. 
In the case of a new employee who will become a coach operator for the first time, on the page opposite is an outline of a suggested curriculum that would fully and properly prepare this person to be a productive, career-oriented, and safe coach operator.

A simple rule of thumb that should be applied in terms of the mix of training to be provided is that for every hour of classroom training, one hour of off-road and 2 hours of on-road “behind the wheel”  training should be provided.

Now, what about those operators that you hire who have experience?  Here, other than training related to specific company policies and procedures, a combination of road testing, hands on testing, and role plays should be employed.  A road test of 30 - 40 miles (not the anemic 10 - 15 used by many) should be employed to ensure that defensive driving techniques are adequate and acceptable.  The operator's demonstration of adequate use and operation of lifts, tie downs, and other such equipment should be part of the orientation process.  And, role-playing to test the experienced operators skill in communication should also be employed. 

Based upon these tests, if any specific training is needed, it should be provided.  Too often, once drivers are hired and trained, they are forgotten.  On-going training is often considered as not being that important; however, it should be a continuing process.  Safety meetings can be an effective way to provide continuing training to operators.  This will require that at least a portion of those meetings are focused for training. 
At least once a year, a thorough review of any regulatory changes should be provided to your operators.  Also it would be beneficial to know what are the most frequent type of accidents that occur in the industry, and to present case studies of industry accidents, their causes, and how these might be avoided.  In such a scenario, operators will become an interactive part of the solutions.  This process, in essence, is training since it will remind all drivers of appropriate behaviors and skills that are necessary.

These are the opportunity areas around which to build training programs for your drivers.   The subject matter will dictate the length of training, although no more than one day should be needed.  And a combination of classroom and hands-on training should be provided.  Through this understanding, better defensive driving techniques can be developed.   As part of a safety meeting, hands on demonstrations specifically related to those operating issues might be considered. 

If an individual operator, whether because of passenger complaints, moving violations, or accidents, exhibits behavior that needs attention, specific training for that driver should be employed.  Here is where CD-ROMs might be useful.  However, one-on-one training emphasizing proper procedures, techniques, and skills is most essential.  And a thorough test of the operator should be included.

Sophisticated driver simulators are now making their appearance in the transit sector, and should become available to the motorcoach industry over the next several years.  These promise to enhance the entire training effort, and in fact, bridge the gap between classroom instruction and “hands-on” driving experience.  A standardized training program will go a long way in deriving maximum advantage from driver simulation technologies.

So is all of this training worth it?

If a motorcoach company uses the above suggestions, they will have well prepared operators and will reduce their accident frequency.

A recent study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development concludes that investment through training results in higher total shareholder return.  For every $680 spent on training employees, an average of 6% improvement in total shareholder return was realized the following year. 
When ranked according to how much they spent on training, companies at the top half of the group realized an average 36.9% increase in total shareholder return the next year, while those in the bottom half realized only a 19.8% return.  Data collected by the American Society for Training and Development indicates that typical and direct training costs amount to 2% of payroll, while indirect and opportunity costs may increase revenues by as much as 10% or more.

The point is that training is not something that should be done simply because it is required or that other people do it.  It should be done with the intent of preparing your employees to perform in ways that will reduce your costs and increase your revenue streams.  Ultimately, training will benefit everyone in the company - not just those who receive it.

Mr. Daecher is President of the Daecher Consulting Group, Inc. with offices in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania; Northfield Center, Ohio; and Sacramento, California.  He is a transportation specialist with over 30 years experience in the transportation field.  Holding a Master's Degree in Transportation Engineering from Villanova University, he has been involved in many aspects of transportation safety.
            He has managed and performed transportation facility design and maintenance projects for both public and private bus industry clients.  He is an accredited accident reconstructionist and has appeared as an expert witness in numerous cases over the last 21 years, and is a pioneer in the large loss immediate response field.
            Carmen worked with the Progressive Insurance Company, Transportation Division from 1987 through to 1992.  During that time he developed and managed the first catastrophic response claims adjusting unit which specialized in immediate investigation of potential loss accidents.
            He also was Director of Safety Services to many commercial motor carriers, assisting them in the interpretation and implementation of federal regulations, development and refinement of loss prevention programs, and assessment risk strategies.  Mr. Daecher has developed and provided training to motor carriers, municipalities, insurance companies, attorneys, and other groups in areas of accident investigation, empathic communication, and safety and loss prevention techniques and processes. 
Carmen Daecher currently consults with public and private bus industry clients, and other professional bodies and industry stakeholders in these areas of expertise.