drew drives with safety in mind

By Staff Writer
drew drives with safety in mind

The world is made up of all different types of people. There are those who gravitate to the stage and have a desire to perform, a prospect that would mortify others. There are people with a proficiency and a passion for numbers, which some might find tedious.
And then there are people who will look at a job that to the average person looks intimidating with a frightening level of responsibility and say, hey, I think I can do that.
Meet Ronald Drew, bus driver for the Eastern Townships School Board for the past 25 years.
“We are reminded of the responsibility we have on the road every time we look in the mirror,” Drew said, “I believe every driver feels it.”
The Record hopped on Drew’s bus halfway through the ETSB’s annual bus safety campaign, “Did you see me?” to learn what it takes to be a school bus driver.
“If it has a motor, I like getting to know it and understanding how it works,” Drew said, explaining his motivation to become a bus driver.
One of the biggest challenges he faced after deciding to enter the profession was finding a bus to practice.
“You’re doing the road test, but you’re not totally comfortable,” he said, explaining that on his first drive, he had to travel down King Street in Sherbrooke.
“These look pretty wide the first time you have to go through traffic.”
Drew also pointed out that new drivers very quickly learn the difference between an empty and a full bus.
The first time he had to brake suddenly was a big surprise for Drew.
“I was very fortunate,” he said, adding that in his 25 years of driving, he has never had an incident on the road. He later admitted to running out of gas in his early days. “It only happened once,” he laughed.
Drew drives around 325 kilometres per day. His bus, a 2015 model, was put on the road in September of 2014, and already has 83,000 km.
Before leaving the yard every morning, Drew has a 20-item check list to go through and fill out in detail, inspecting all the lights, mirrors and fluids. His bus also goes to the garage every 3,000 km for an inspection and safety verification.
Drew also has to do a refresher course every three years in order to maintain his right to drive.
“I have to say it’s a wake-up call even for myself,” he said, adding that he follows 98 percent of the safety protocols just because of routine.
“It’s good to remember.”
“The job’s getting better, there are creature comforts now,” Drew said, referring to his heated seat, the air suspension system, the automatic transmission, and the intercom system so that he never needs to yell.
Drew described busses when he first started driving as little more than trucks with seats.
Drivers are now given cell phones as well, so that they can call for help if there is a breakdown or problem.
Drew is also a big fan of the cameras, now equipped on busses.
According to Drew, some drivers interpret the cameras as a lack of trust.
Drew said he would rather have the camera than have to defend a decision where there was a discrepancy between what he reported and what was said at home. The cameras also capture audio, he added.
Regarding his passengers, Drew said it is very rare that they will be defiant. Dealing with elementary level students often requires repeating, but in general, he said his students are respectful.
“You deal with the small problems quickly to avoid larger problems,” he said.
Foul language is not tolerated on Drew’s bus, and disrespect and harassment is something he pays close attention to and addresses quickly.
Even with the bus running perfectly, his training up to date, and the passengers are behaving well Drew still has the road and other drivers to contend with.
The ETSB territory is vast, and drivers can deal with many different issues during a run. He said that during one trip, in the span of an hour, Drew drove through rain, freezing rain and snow at different elevations.
“I wouldn’t want to be the one making the decision,” Drew said, regarding school cancellations. He added that every driver in the fleet has the right to make their own call. If the weather in their area is dangerous and they refuse to do the run, Drew said the board will trust the judgment of the driver.
One of the biggest safety issues mentioned by Drew is other cars on the road.
“Other drivers are willing to take unreasonable risks to not be caught behind a bus,” Drew said.
“I’ve seen some unbelievable things,” he added. Just last Friday, a small vehicle was so desperate to pass and so close to the back of the bus, that Drew was forced to pull over and let the driver pass, even though the rule is to stay on the road.
“You could see the intensity building in the mirror,” Drew said. He let the driver pass, but took the license plate number and filed a report with the SQ.
“In all things, common sense has to come into play,” Drew said, adding that he will hold his ground unless he can see a potentially dangerous situation developing.
“Even parents want the bus to be driven safely, to get the kids to school safely, but they don’t want to be stuck behind it,” Drew said.
“I’m more comfortable with this vehicle than any other vehicle I have,” Drew said, because of all the time he spends driving the bus. He pointed out that among the ETSB drivers, 40 of them have over 10 years of experience.
Drew said he has had ride-alongs interested in entering the field. On one occasion, after a day and a half, the trainee said ‘this is not for me,’ adding that he had trouble sleeping after the first night, overwhelmed by the level of responsibility.
“They’re big machines, but you’ve got to feel when you’re behind the wheel that you have it under control,” Drew said, adding that with time, drivers gain more confidence in their abilities.
“There’s no room for error; everything has to be right.”
Drew said one of his biggest fears would be a child, that has gotten on and off the bus the same way dozens of times, one day stops to tie their shoe, or drops something near the wheel of the bus and bends down to get it.
“The golden rule is when you are loading and unloading, there is no rush in that process,” he said, adding that doing a headcount is critical.
The bus safety campaign will continue throughout this week, encouraging drivers to be mindful of school busses and their precious cargo.

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