Pull up your ‘big boy (or girl) pants’ and be real drivers

“The Mace” planned a three-pronged attack to resolve his problem. He was 1,500 miles from home and his Scenicruiser appeared to be overheating.

Dave Millhouser

One reason we called him Mace had to do with the time a 4104 wouldn’t start. He tried pushing it with a van with no joy, so his solution was to back the van up, gain some momentum and ram that sucker.

The bus started, but the van windshield popped out, and I digress.

Mace’s first step involved tapping the temperature gauge in hopes it would bounce back into a “safe place.” This never works, but costs nothing.

Step 2 involved plastering electrical tape over the annoying “hot engine” light.

When that didn’t solve things, he moved on to step 3 — the “nuclear option” – in which he disabled the automatic shutdown, hoping that both the gauge and light’s separate systems were fibbing, and headed towards home.

He made it, but instead of an oil change the Scenic needed an engine change. Checking the water would have told him the bus was speaking truth.

Modern coaches are loaded with automated systems to enhance safety and protect equipment. Generally reliable, they occasionally lie, so understanding their personalities can be critical. If Mace had a more nurturing relationship with his bus, that 8V71 might still be alive.

Consider the question of whether trusting technology too much (or too little) creates danger when it fails or becomes baffled by a situation it wasn’t designed for. We need to understand how doohickeys work, and what it looks like when they get confused.

In 2013, an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 landed short in San Francisco. After hitting a seawall, it cartwheeled across the airport and came to rest. Miraculously only three people were killed (including one who was run over by a rescue vehicle).

The pilot and copilot were both experienced, but not on that model plane. If I understand correctly, during approach they switched on an autopilot feature that was supposed to help keep them on the glide path, but it was incorrectly set. The airliner thought it was being asked to climb for a go-around and powered up.

The crew cleverly saw that they were now way too high (a bad thing if you’re trying to land) and disengaged the autopilot. What they didn’t notice was that an automatic throttle they expected to control their speed was in the airplane version of “park,” and they descended too rapidly. Just before they struck, the pilot saw the ground coming up and hit the gas, but it was too late.

The crew was zigzagging between several automated systems they didn’t fully understand. These were supposed to enhance safety, but an earlier peek out the window would have told them to take manual control.

Translate that into coaches and what might it look like?

A charter bus coasted to the shoulder for a forced re-gen after its engine lost patience with the driver, who had ignored numerous electronic pleas to voluntarily regenerate in a safe place. Things might have worked out if it hadn’t been nighttime, and if, following the re-gen, the coach driver had pulled back onto the road a bit more carefully.

He didn’t, and a truck rammed him from behind.

A knowledgeable driver would have known that when a diesel particulate filter gets constipated, it only gives a finite number of warnings before choking the engine.

Many modern buses have lane departure warning. Nifty, but what if you’re driving on a road that lacks lines it can read? Or if you’re used to a bus that does have it, and get assigned one that doesn’t? It is probably best to keep track of those lanes yourself and use technology as a backup.

What happens if your adaptive cruise control loses a radar sensor (you DID know it had radar)? Does a light come on? Does it disengage? Or does it merrily merge with a car in front of you? Worth knowing, and bearing in mind.

When an engine fault annunciator flashes, is it a suggestion or a demand for attention? Is the engine the problem, or the light?

If a tire pressure warning comes on, is the air really low or is it the sensor? Hopefully we remember how to check tires manually.

I’m suggesting that we pull up our “big boy (or girl) pants” and be real drivers. It’s nice when technology catches a mistake before things jump ugly, but there’s no substitute for understanding the coach when we are at the helm.

Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” Torturing his quote a bit to make it fit, if he was driving a coach he might say, “Trust yourself, but verify with technology.” (“Know thy bus” is a bit high highfalutin.)

Last I heard, Mace was driving a beer truck. Wonder how that worked out?

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at Davemillhouser@gmail.com.

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