Bus drivers showcase their expertise at School Bus Road-e-o

School bus driver Gillian Duffy says she can’t believe she actually won.

“It was amazing. My head is still reeling from the whole thing. I can’t believe I actually won,” said the mother of four who won the school division’s 2018 School Bus Road-e-o.

Second and third place winners, respectively, were drivers Jon Cushman and Donald White.

The annual event, which this year was held Saturday, April 28 at Birdneck Elemenary School, tests bus drivers’ knowledge and behind-the-wheel skills.

Contestants start with two types of exams: one that test general bus knowledge and the other that is based on the “pre-trip” safety inspection that school bus drivers have to conduct every day before they get on the road.

“They check the bus from top to bottom: brakes, air systems, lights, fans, defrosters, under the hood, and much more,” said Transportation Area Supervisor Cris Sprouse who’s been coordinating the event for some-20 years.

From there, it’s on to driving events that test a driver’s precision skills – from turning to parallel parking to student pick up, which refers to monitoring mirrors, activating warning lights and keeping a safe distance during the approach to the bus stop.

“It’s everything that we endure through a day of driving, just in a much smaller field,” Duffy, whose route includes Salem High School and Old Donation School, added. “It’s challenging and absolutely fun and it gets your mind set on the things that we have to do every day; how meticulous we have to be in our jobs and how safety minded you have to be.”

Every detail counts since drivers are awarded points for each event as well as the tests.

But there’s one event that has become legendary: the offset ally.

“I’ve heard that it’s some people’s pet peeve because you have to try to get through without hitting a cone,” Duffy shares.

In this event, drivers have to maneuver their 45-foot long buses between corridors of cones set in a tightly-positioned offset pattern with barely enough space for the bus to turn. Points are deducted for any cone that’s hit.

“It’s doable, but I danced in my seat when I got through it,” Duffy, who didn’t hit a single cone, recalls.

Her prize for winning: trading in her current bus for one of Transportation’s newest buses.

“This one handles better and there’s some new buttons in there that I have to get used to without buzzers and lights going off,” Duffy stated. “This one has a dash cam on it so traffic that might cut me off, that’s all on film now so that’s kind of a neat thing. It also smells new.”

After the event, the Transportation family – along with their real family members – enjoyed a Family Fun Day attended by an estimated 200 people. Everyone enjoyed a cookout and kids played on blow-up bounce houses.

“It’s a blast. It is so much fun – the practices, and the comradery that comes with the whole competition. It is not about the competition, though. It’s about keeping us on track of what we need to be doing and paying attention out there on the road,” Duffy said.

Sprouse agrees and added that “whether it’s first or last place, everyone there cheers each other on.”

Duffy now advances to compete against first place winners from other school divisions in Virginia’s School Bus Road-e-o June 18. Several Virginia Beach City Public Schools bus drivers have finished first place in that event, including last year’s winner Tom Pittman. First and second place winners from state then advance to represent Virginia in the International School Bus Road-e-o which includes school bus drivers from the United States and Canada.

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