School system tests bus drivers Carroll is first county chosen to participate in MVA pilot program

September 07, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The real test for Kristy Kidd will come tomorrow morning when she has her first bus load of children to drive to school.

But before that, she had to pass the state's school bus driver examination.

For the first time, the state Motor Vehicle Administration has authorized a local school system -- Carroll County is the only one so far -- to administer the test.

That saves Carroll bus drivers and trainers the time-consuming hassle of traveling to Frederick or Hagerstown MVA sites and waiting weeks or months to schedule the tests.

And in Kidd's case, her employer, Rill's Bus Service Inc., has a route it's holding for her with a substitute driver.

For her test Friday, Kidd, 27, maneuvered a full-size yellow bus -- with manual transmission -- around a course near Friendship Valley Elementary School in Westminster.

Kidd, a Westminster resident, parallel-parked -- on the left and right sides of the simulated road -- and backed the bus into a narrow "dock" from a 45-degree angle.

"Rarely would you ever parallel-park a school bus," said James Doolan, the county school system's transportation supervisor."First of all, we don't want a school bus backing up, which is very dangerous.

"It's more of a skill than something practical to use," he said. "If you have to do it, you'll be able to."

The same applies to manual transmission and air brakes. Not all buses have them, but Carroll County insists that its drivers be able to operate any bus in the fleet. The school system owns a few buses for special education and employs those drivers, but the bulk of the fleet is owned by contractors who hire their own drivers and send them to the school system for training and certification.

Kidd passed the parking-lot test in the first 45 minutes. Her examiner, Fred Savage, hopped onthe bus for a 45-minute drive through and around Westminster, sampling back roads, state highways and West Main Street. He sat in the seat behind her and to the right, checking off boxes as she drove and giving her occasional tasks.

"Pull off in front of this roadwork sign," Savage told Kidd as they traveled Kate Wagner Road, asking her to recite the procedure for road trouble.

"First, I would secure the children on the bus, make sure they're OK," Kidd said confidently. "I'd step outside the bus [to check the problem] and put on the emergency lights."

She was referring to the orange reflective triangle markers and flares that warn drivers of a disabled bus.

It was the right answer. The pair continued to Stone Chapel Road, up a hill. A car passed her on the two-lane road, crossing two solid yellow lines to do it.

"Did you see that?" Kidd asked.

He had.

"That's the kind of stuff you have to put up with," he said, shaking his head.

Although Carroll is the only county with local testing, Doolan said at least one other has applied.

The MVA pilot program came about through a statewide committee on which Doolan serves. The agency invited schools to apply.

Doolan said giving the test locally will save Carroll schools' trainers about 400 hours a year in travel time. They can put that time toward other duties, such as promoting safety, observing drivers and training more than 100 people who drive school buses in Carroll County.

They'll also save on the cost of fuel to drive a bus there and back. They'll work less overtime to fit in all the examinations.

The trade-off, Doolan said, is that the school system accepts more responsibility in certifying the drivers. The three examiner-trainers attended classes at the MVA for certification.

Joyce Mays and Dena Hozik are the county's two trainers, and they and Savage -- whose title is driver coordinator -- share the examination duties.

Drivers may attempt to pass the test only three times.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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