Broadening the Training Curriculum

While most legitimate companies’ training is often excellent, the past two decades have exhibited a propensity, in the legal arena, to stress the importance of written training documents over even the best verbal training. The paratransit system I owned and operated for a decade from 1982 to 1992 had precious few written training documents. However:

  • Roughly a  full third or our vehicles had attendants on board in addition to drivers.
  • We employed “progressive driver assignment” (see National Bus Trader, October, 2001).
  • With progressive driver assignment, many of our “attendants” were actually “senior drivers” (who often taught new drivers or rode along with them, as attendants, to monitor their performance and conduct) or “cover drivers” (the top echelon of our progressive driver pyramid, who know every route in the system, and who were often deployed to monitor route about whose driver we had concerns).

With this structure, traditional driver assignment (almost universally based on seniority) was turned virtually on its head. In our system, the most experienced, skilled and trustworthy drivers were assigned to the most challenging routes, while the newest and least experienced were assigned to what our military pilots call “milk runs” – the easiest assignments with the least risks. As a consequence, few of our driver were ever permitted to operate vehicles, as a solo driver, before spending several months as an attendant to an experienced fellow-driver. Thus every driver had experienced several months of intensive one-on-one/face-to-face training,  and had undergone extensive and rigorous monitoring before we ever let them transport a single passenger. And even when we did, they began their first solo routes operating only the most simple routes – for example, routes with very loose schedules, and carrying only ambulatory passengers with no unusual special needs.

Few if any public transportation services of any kind Today are similarly structured. So most of the training must be provided via written documents. As a result, the lack of written materials related to the theme of a particular accident or incident involved in a lawsuit inevitably following it is considered negligent, and operates against the defendant transportation providers chances of winning the case in court, and impedes the plaintiff’s efforts to settle the case for a reasonable sum of money.

Depth Versus Detail

How much training should be provided, and how detailed it should be is, are far more complex conundrums than mere double-edged swords. To begin with, beyond a certain point, training with too much detail (and particularly needless detail) dilutes the training agenda, and translates only into more things a driver is likely to forget – often important things — increasingly for drivers with long tenures. One prudent rule to follow is to omit the obvious, include and emphasize everything likely to occur that is not obvious, and focus on hiring drivers who will remain alert, occasionally review their training materials (after having thoroughly absorbing and being tested on them), and who exercise good judgment and common sense. Following this logic, one rarely finds written admonishments to not shoot or rape the passengers, or similarly the mention of things patently illegal, offensive or intuitively obvious.

Working on the plaintiffs’ side of most of the 20 assault- or mostly molestation-related lawsuits, I rarely criticize the defendant for not including such admonitions in its training. Instead, I focus on what is almost always marginal or non-existent monitoring – the genuine Achilles Heel of public transportation of all forms.

The Training Conundrum

The relationship between training and monitoring is among the most critically important in the provision of transportation. For training to be effective and to have any genuine meaning, it must be understood, retained and applied. Ensuring that this happens necessarily requires monitoring, evaluation, supervision and enforcement. Ironically, the provision of excellent training can actually hurt a plaintiff’s case if it the driver’s performance was marginally or poorly-monitored (see “The Training Conundrum” in National Bus Trader, November, 2001).

Beyond poor or non-existent monitoring, there is a thick volume of subject matter often omitted from training curricula that should be included, depending to some degree on the mode. Picking apart a defendant for not training its drivers in these areas becomes a field day for a plaintiff’s attorney and expert witness with considerable knowledge and experience. The list of subjects that I feel should be included, but which I rarely find, is considerable. Even a  tiny sample is eye-opening with respect to the vulnerability to which it exposes the defendant transportation provider in the courtroom. Among the most common training themes rarely covered by written documents of most types of service are:

  • Inertial and centrifugal forces, and their severity (see “The Mysterious Force,” National Bus Trader, December, 2001).
  • FERPA regulations (in school bus and particularly special education school bus services)
  • HIPAA regulations (in non-emergency medical transportation services)
  • “Common Carrier” duties and responsibilities (which apply to almost all motorcoach operations).
  • Evacuation approaches, exercises and/or passenger briefings (almost universal in school bus operations, yet rarely provided in almost any other mode other than some forms of motorcoach transportation  — particularly in its charter, tour and long-distance intercity/scheduled service sectors).
  • Boarding, alighting and passenger assistance – parts of which are actually required in many sectors, and particularly important for motorcoach service involving non-wheelchair-accessible vehicles where, believe it or not, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act, the driver of a non-accessible coach is required to stow the user’s wheelchair in the luggage bays, and physically carry the passenger up and down the stepwell.
  • Pull-outs and admonitions to not move the bus or coach until every passenger having boarded has reached and settled into a seat or has grasped a stanchion – the failure of which is a major incident theme in transit service, but which I have even encountered, as an expert, in motorcoach service (whose vehicles do not even contain stanchions for standees to grasp while the coach is moving)
  • Abandoning the bus, especially without turning off the engine
  • Sleep-wakefulness cycles, circadian rhythms and fatigue management principles (beyond teaching drivers only about Hours-of-Service requirements, which ignore almost every aspect of fatigue but the duration of one’s driving and off-duty rest periods)
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea, and the ease of its diagnosis and treatment
  • Stop selection and bus positioning
  • Health, nutrition, rest and exercise
  • Mirror adjustment and mirror usage (including “clearing the mirrors” and “scanning the mirrors”)
  • How, and how often, to measure tire pressure, and examine oil seals

This is only a short list because this is only a short article. But if your drivers are not being fully-trained about every one of these subjects, you can be sure many other important topics are being omitted as well.

Incident Variety, Training and Driver Judgment

There is no absolute dividing line to use for guidance in balancing the volume and detail of written and verbal training so as not to overwhelm drivers with too much of both types. A prudent approach is to envision most scenarios that can reasonably materialize, and at least include some reference to them, and present and discuss the measures that will most likely prevent their occurrence. This is not a particularly easy task, although merely reviewing the titles of my last 12 years’ of articles on “Safety and Liability” in NBT is a good start. So too is perusing the section of my website (www.transalt.com) titled “Common Accident and Incident Scenarios” found as a link on the Home Page.  In this latter case, the contents here were targeted at  attorneys – but nonetheless cover many essential points about the far-most-common accident and incident themes. These are among the most common scenarios to which preventive measures should be devised and communicated to drivers and management.

Also important, a company’s or agency’s training curriculum should be a “living document,” and providing training materials in a loose-leaf binder or two facilitates the constant addition of new materials, a far superior approach than to merely cover safety topics in occasional refresher training sessions, post new information on bulletin boards, or “e-mail “safety tips” to drivers. Most foolish, many companies consider their training documents proprietary, and not wishing their competitors to steal information from them (to use to complete with them in the next bidding process), they retain them, “in house,” for drivers to review voluntarily at their leisure, often in the driver’s lounge. Dream On. Such paranoia is a poor trade-off for those moments in the courtroom when, following an accident or incident, your drivers are forced to admit under oath that they were never even given their own copies of their training materials – much less one copy to take home, and another to keep in the vehicle.

Getting Help Immediately

Another important procedure often omitted or under-emphasized is the need for drivers to immediately contact their dispatchers or other supervisors for virtually anything about which they are uncertain. Dispatchers, in my opinion, are usually the most valuable and most often underpaid members of the transportation management team. A good one with a vast knowledge of safety procedures, knowledge of the shortcomings of all or most of the drivers under his or her control, and a sound familiarity of the “service area” can help drivers avoid countless accidents and incidents, if the dispatcher is consulted when curiosities or aberrations emerge en route.

Regarding the training of management, written materials for training managers are rare, other than the fact that policy documents and driver training materials comprise part of these materials, and requirements for drivers often imply procedures that should be executed by management.

Those NBT readers who have followed my columns over the years have probably noted how many unusual and sometimes zany incidents were included. It would seem impossible to train drivers how to handle many of these once-in-a-driver’s-lifetime occurrences. Yet that is not the case at all.  This is because many accident and incident scenarios are merely symptoms of other deficiencies – or their “underlying causation” in more legal terminology. By far, the best example, and the underlying cause of roughly half of all transportation-related lawsuits I have done has been that the schedules were too tight. This problem is pandemic in the transit sector, paratransit sector and non-emergency medical sector. But it can happen in poorly-managed and, particularly, underfunded and struggling motorcoach operations, where drivers must operate at excessive speeds to reach their destinations while complying with Hours-of-Service requirements, or where the schedules do not contain enough slack to accommodate a “margin of error” – anticipating occasional delays and other events that likely compromise schedule adherence.

Balancing Volume and Detail

As noted, finding and establishing the dividing line between enough training and too much is a challenging task. But here again, the standard is likely going to default to “reasonable and prudent,” and the inclusions “above the line” should encompass most subjects about which a dedicated, well-trained and well-monitored bus or coach driver should know. Beyond the two examples cited above (my past NBT articles on “Safety and Liability,” and the “Common Accident and Incident Scenarios” on my website) , one might wish to begin by purchasing a copy of the J.J. Keller Motorcoach Operator’s Manual. Another good idea is to become a “trade show “junkie:” Attend trade shows, talk to suppliers, read and file their product brochures. Further, if and when you can, obtain and skim through copies of your colleagues’ policy and training documents, and pilfer from them worthwhile sections to fatten up the content of your currently curriculum’s contents. Another great idea is to build a library in your driver’s lounge, and equip it with a photocopying machine, so that no one needs to liquidate the library’s contents. The more items your driver photocopy and take home with them, the more training elements they are likely to retain and think about.

While I have reviewed many laborious training manuals full of useless platitudes and needlessly or oppressively-lengthy diatribes about subjects like “customer service,” the better of these training documents are relatively thick with what I call operating information: Defensive driving principles, important vehicle features, regulatory requirements, vehicle handling procedures and tips, laws and signage, and yes, common accident and incident scenarios, and how to handle them (as well as some of the other elements listed above. Most of all, in making the ultimate trade-off between too much or too little, too much is usually better, for both safety and liability purposes – as long as you don’t overdo it.

Publications: National Bus Trader.