Simulated training: New technology boosts skills, cuts training costs

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Updated Jan 21, 2010

center-2Giant Eagle, one of the nation’s largest food retailers and distributors, is entering its second year of using driver simulator training. Since last January when the company started using simulators from Doron Precision Systems for its private fleet, accidents have dropped by 30 percent. “I believe (simulators) have been a big help for us,” says Gary Johnson, director of safety and labor standards.

Giant Eagle houses the simulators in a van trailer to train drivers at four separate facilities. The company uses simulators as part of an annual training program given to all drivers. As part of the program, instructors also teach the Smith System for defensive driving and use Pro-Tread computer-based training modules from Instructional Technologies Inc.

Because of hardware and software costs, simulator training traditionally has been limited to fleets with large training budgets. Today, new technology and services are pulling down the cost barrier. At the same time, fleet executives and managers are looking for ways to use technology to target risky drivers and train them more effectively at a lower cost.

Targeted training
J.J. Keller’s entry-level simulator program, Safe Sim, is a PC-based software program that comes with a wheel and pedals. The program is not designed to simulate the spatial dimensions and characteristics of a full-size tractor, but rather to reinforce driver skills in areas such as backing, right turns, speed and space management. The software is priced at about $2,400, and J.J. Keller sells about 10 to 15 units a month, says Jan Hamblin, director of product sales.

Several large fleets prefer full-scale simulators as a core part of their driving and fuel economy training programs. Schneider National, which uses more than 40 simulators from MPRI, has designed a 30-minute skills assessment course that it modifies regularly to simulate the types of accidents and incidents the fleet is experiencing.

The Green Bay, Wis.-based company is looking to lower its training costs by using fewer instructors and developing a “just-in-time, just-enough” training model. Instead of having twice-a-year training meetings, simulated training may be used only quarterly for those drivers that need it, says Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety.

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For fleets that do not have the capital to invest in the hardware and software, MPRI offers onsite simulator training. For $300 per driver, MPRI will send instructors and a mobile simulator unit to a carrier’s site. The training course takes two hours, and drivers go through two at a time.

On your own time
One advantage of computer-based training programs is that drivers can do the training on their own time — from computers at company locations, at home or even in the cab. The instructor-free approach to training always has been integral to the Tread-1 and Pro-Tread computer-based programs from Instructional Technologies Inc. (ITI). The system keeps electronic records of when drivers complete each training module, as well as their results.

ITI recently worked with Advanced Training Systems (ATS) to develop TransMaster, a system that combines a simulator with the computer-based Pro-Tread training program. The program includes visuals and spoken instruction, followed by a skills assessment, in a full-size simulator. “It is like an instructor sitting in the other seat,” says Jim Vorhees, ITI president and chief executive. Only in this case, fleets don’t have to pay the instructor a salary.

Not only can simulators help reduce accidents, but new technology also can help fleets reduce their training and administrative costs.