Virtual school bus improves driver's skills

Virtual school bus improves driver's skills
Larry Thronton gives Je'Non Derrick driving tips. Photo by Jamey Boyum KLTV.

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - Bus safety is always a number one priority for transportation directors at any school district, and at Gilmer ISD, experienced drivers went through some of the worst scenarios imaginable. But it was all done in a virtual world.

Emma Derrick Fasion drives a bus for Gilmer ISD, and so does her nephew Je'Non Derrick. The wheels on her bus have been going round and round for 19 years, his for about three. Larry Thornton, a Safety Training Specialist with the Region 6 Education Service Center out of Huntsville, is going to take them for a ride in a bus simulator.

"It's very intense. We need to deal with characteristics and habits that devolved through their years of driving, and we've got to change it in a three hour time period. So consequently, it is heated. It is exciting. They learn a whole lot in a very short period of time," Thornton said.

First he checks out their driving style and throws obstacles in front of them, with late indications of which way to swerve.

"Uh-oh, I crashed it," Emma said as she hit a barricade in the simulator.

Emma was told she needs to move her seat forward so her hands are on the wheel not the crossbar of the wheel, and yes the simulator feels strange at first. But Emma hangs in because:

"I plan to drive 19 more years if the Lord sees fit and says the same," Emma said.

And judging from her second run that may be possible. Her nephew Je'Non had problems, too.

"You know, you turned that bus over," I said to him.

"Yes, sir, I did," he admitted.

"But you recovered well. There was quite a bit of improvement after that it looked like," I offered.

"Yes, sir, it was. Once he was telling me how to do all my steps and everything I started to improve my own self," Jr'Non stated.

It went from barricades to cars and even people on the road. They both said even though it wasn't real, it was more intense.

"It made me get a deeper thought about what I'm supposed to do if I'm in a situation like that," Emma added.

They found it a virtually eye-opening experience.

The simulator classes are only three hours of training for each driver, but Thornton feels everyone leaves the class a better bus driver. The training is partially funded by TXDOT.

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