Vancouver school bus driver cruises into international competition After six years of ferrying students all over the district, Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) bus driver Duane Peterson has shifted his career into overdrive.
In July, Peterson became the first VPS driver to represent Washington in the annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition. The “road-e-o” tests the knowledge and skills of drivers from across the United States and Canada. The competition is sponsored by the National School Transportation Association and was held this year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the IC Bus plant.
In the week leading up to his trip to Oklahoma, paid for by the Washington Association for Pupil Transportation, Peterson revved up his knowledge of laws with help from Steve Eustis, Joe Stewart, and Carla Horner in VPS’ transportation department. Peterson also practiced for the driving events, which emphasize control and safety over speed.
At the competition, Peterson squared off against 28 other drivers in the transit category. He didn’t pilot his regular bus, with a front engine and relatively tight turning radius. The competition bus was a rear-engine model—with a different seat and mirror system—straight off the IC assembly line.
“The unknown elements level the playing field,” Peterson said. “You never know what you’re going to get. The mirror system is the biggest factor.”
He coasted through the offset alley challenge, which tested contestants’ ability to drive through narrow offset lanes with a minimum of hesitation and without touching barriers or flag tips. Other events were more difficult, such as the right turn event, which left little room for error.
When the exhaust cleared, Peterson had earned 490 out of 725 possible points. His score was good enough for seventh place and recognition as one of the best drivers in the industry. It also fueled his desire to return to the International Safety Competition next year.
But it wasn’t just about honors. Networking with top drivers increased his knowledge. And “practicing what you’ll do in competition makes you a safer driver. You learn to be more aware of the bus and your surroundings,” Peterson said.
He added, “You have new things thrown at you in the competition. How are you going to react? You can apply the principles to any bus.”
Adaptability is a skill that will be put to good use this fall. Whichever bus and route Peterson takes, students will be getting a lift from a top bus driver—someone who truly loves what he does. “There's many rewards and fun over the long run,” Peterson said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t do it.”
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