According to Rachel Teel, driving a school bus is not a job, “It’s an adventure!” And now Teel, who has been driving Bus 992 for the Effingham County School System for three years, is preparing to take her adventurous job to the next level when she competes in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s School Bus Road-e-o, June 10-11 in Warner Robbins.
Teel will compete against bus drivers from around the state on both a written test and an obstacle course test. During the local competition held in April on the Bulloch County School System’s obstacle course, she scored a 407 out of a possible 550 points, making her the bus Road-e-o champion for Effingham County.
The obstacle course consists of 11 challenges, including the “Straight Line,” where the driver has to drive the bus in a straight line with its right side tires passing between a set of eight rubber balls placed on small stands. Points are deducted for each ball that gets knocked off. Another challenge is the “Stop Line,” where the driver has to stop with the bus’s front bumper lining up within three inches of the stop line. During the “Serpentine” challenge, the driver must weave through tall cones and then turn sharply into two different straight-aways. The other tests in the obstacle course include the “Alley Dock,” curb parking, parallel parking, stopping at a mock railroad crossing, making a right-hand turn, and loading students. A bus inspection is also part of the competition.
Teel said parallel parking was her biggest challenge when she first started practicing for the bus road-e-o. But with the help of veteran bus driver Tiny Bailey, she finally mastered parking the 2004 Blue Bird in a space that was the length of the bus plus four extra feet.
“Tiny was great,” stated Teel. “She took her own time during our spring break to help me practice. And she has also gone with me to practice on the obstacle course in Statesboro.”
In addition to driving for three years in Effingham County, Teel drove a school bus for two years in Florida. As the youngest and least experienced driver in her Florida school system, she said she had earned a reputation for putting dings and dents in the other buses when she had to back into her “very tight” parking space at the bus compound.
“When I called my friends in Florida and told them that I had won the local bus road-e-o and would be competing for the State competition, they couldn’t believe it,” explained Teel. “These were my friends who had given me an autographed ‘scratch and dent’ toy bus as a going away present.”
Teel said her driving skills have improved a lot since then and she believes participating in the road-e-o has made a big difference. Teel competed in the local competition last year and was the runner-up.
In order to qualify for the school bus road-e-o, drivers with a valid CDL must have not had a preventable accident within the past year and must have driven for the system at least three days per week during the school year.
Teel will continue to practice on the obstacle course in Statesboro as she prepares for the state competition in June. Practicing is especially important for her, she explained, because the bus she will drive in the competition will be a 2004 Blue Bird Vision model and the bus she drives on her daily route is a 1999 International model.
“There’s quite a difference,” Teel added, “in the size of the older 66 passenger bus versus a newer 72 passenger bus. Plus, the obstacle course at the state road-e-o will be a lot tighter.”