NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - This morning children all over East Texas are boarding school buses. Parents entrust the drivers with making sure everyone will arrive to their destination safe and sound.
A state-of-the-art simulator is being used to create safer school bus drivers.
"So let's give it a shot," said Larry Thornton, the safety training specialist for the Region 6 Education Service Center. "What you're gonna do is push down on your service brake hard."
A school bus of noisy kids can't match the nervous feeling of getting behind the wheel of a school bus simulator. Every move is scrutinized by a trainer and a recording device.
"And then I'm going to put you under the gun to be quite honest with you, so it's going to get a little hectic here in just a second," Thornton said.
The goal is not to set up a driver for failure, but equip them with skills that will help them get children to and from school safely.
"We can put drivers in situations that we definitely don't what to have to see them in out there in the real world, and they can learn from their mistakes and from their successes," Thornton said.
Nacogdoches Independent School District bus driver Phillip Jones was trained on braking.
"And we're going to do a quick shut down. You can make it," Thornton said. "You going up to 40 miles an hour. You never got to 40. You used your calf muscle instead of your toes. If you notice your calf muscle tight. That's perfect. That's what we want to see."
The report gave Jones confidence for the next exercise and puts him closer to his personal goal.
"It helps me be more safe and be a better driver in the near future," Jones said.
It's a worthy effort. Statewide last year there were over 1,100 crashes involving school buses. Among the most recent was a Houston crash which killed two and injured three.
"That day we were actually training on a similar scenario that had developed with that accident," Thornton said.
Thornton says drivers who face dangerous scenarios in a simulator are better equipped with skills to avoid disasters on the roadways.
Nacogdoches ISD made the proactive request to Region 6 Education Service Center to provide its drivers three hours of advanced training above the state requirement. Texas Department of Transportation funds the free program for districts statewide.