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Driving You (Safely) to Drink Local: Our driver safety programs

Driving our buses is not like driving a car. There are 14 people that are depending on our driver to operate safely while they have fun on a tour. Learn more about our driver safety programs.

Many people have “some experience” driving a larger vehicle. Maybe it was grandpa’s station wagon, that 15-P van during college activities or AmeriCorps service, or the U-Haul that was used to move across town or across the country.

When we ask our prospective employees if they have a comfort level driving our buses, it is a serious question. Not everybody wants to have that responsibility. And we absolutely want to know that up front.

Each tour is staffed with two employees, one as a guide and one who’s sole job is to drive the tour safely. Although we often have employees that are dually-trained as drivers and guides, we sometimes have people who work as guides only as they do not wish to drive our buses.

We market our tours as an alternative to driving yourself in a car around town while consuming alcohol. Our driver is required to have not consumed alcohol for ten hours prior to operating our vehicles, and certainly does not have any samples (no matter how small) while on the tour.

Our 15 passenger buses are taller, wider, and longer than any passenger car or van on the road. They are heavier too, especially when fully loaded with up to 2,300 additional pounds of guests on board.

Any bus has tremendous blind spots, which are attempted to be addressed with multiple installed mirrors. Sometimes, even those mirrors themselves could be distracting to the driver. They also can be very tricky to back up, as the turning radius is poor and the rear view mirror is of little use.

All three of our buses lined up and ready to be loaded up with tour guests.

All three of our buses lined up and ready to be loaded up with tour guests.

Before any of our employees drive their first tour with paying guests on board, they drive for three paid hours on a certification route with only a driver supervisor on board. That supervisor (currently myself) is required to hold a valid Commercial Driver’s License with Passenger endorsement (CDL-P).

We have three people in our company (soon to be four) who hold their CDL-P, which is actually required to operate our original bus. Lenny was manufactured to hold 18 passengers (yes, very small ones) and is registered in the State of Maine as a bus. And any vehicle with a bus license plate is considered a Commercial Motor Vehicle, and the operator is required by Federal Law to hold a CDL.

So with that CDL-P licensed supervisor on board, a simulated Casco Fiasco route is driven. The route is typically driven on a weekday morning when traffic is light. This timing also often scares our partners who may think they forgot that a tour was coming by!

The driver is trained on safe route and early lane selection, hazard recognition and avoidance, and proper parking procedures discussed along the way.

This Driver Certification ride found an empty Allagash parking lot to practice backing and parking. 

This Driver Certification ride found an empty Allagash parking lot to practice backing and parking.

A running commentary about safe driving is part of the process, with guidelines developed by a large national transportation company.

Sometimes it is reminiscent of Driver’s Ed; “Maintain a good driving posture, hands on the wheel at 10 and 2, count to three after the car in front of you has started before proceeding.”

Often the commentary is very specific about larger vehicles, including information about railroad grade crossings, following distances, and differences with braking and stopping when fully loaded.

Maine Mead Works presents a number of parking challenges. We work on different scenarios with our drivers during their certification process. 

Maine Mead Works presents a number of parking challenges. We work on different scenarios with our drivers during their certification process.

Once the certification route is successfully completed, then the driver is assigned to their first tour, which is typically the Casco Fiasco route that they trained on. The new driver now has had time and training behind the wheel to help make sure that they can keep our guests safe.

Final test: safely backing into the bus parking space at our warehouse.

Final test: safely backing into the bus parking space at our warehouse.

Our company has all buses regularly maintained by bus experts at O’Connor Truck in Portland, is a member of the Maine Motor Transport Association, subscribes to safety programs from J.J. Keller and Associates, and frequently shares key information gained in safety workshops and seminars with all of our (driving and non-driving) employees.

Find out more about how we are safely Driving You to Drink Local at our website. And the next time you are on a tour, be sure to thank your driver for being responsible for your safe enjoyment of our local craft alcohol while you are on board.

Don Littlefield is the Assistant Principal of The Maine Brew Bus, and takes the job of certifying company drivers very seriously. Consequently, he also loves coffee. Twitter: @BeerinME

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