From the driver’s seat

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Your new hire is driving a load across black ice. He’s tired, inexperienced and unaware that his tire is about to blow. How will he react? Will his fatigue delay his reaction time and cause an accident? The driver swerves across the middle line and wildly corrects the skid; successfully pulling out of a near disaster. He’s relieved to see that his skills saved the day and his safety director is relieved that the near accident took place in a simulator and not on an icy road.

The Texas Motor Transportation Association’s Driver Simulator/Mobile Classroom, presented by ChevronTexaco is an example of an innovative way to help reduce driver accident risks and increase safety awareness. TMTA’s simulator is transported by a Volvo VNL 64T 780 – provided by Volvo with fuel provided by TravelCenters of America – to trucking companies, fairs, NASCAR events and other gatherings where both truckers and motorists can test their driving skills. The simulator trains drivers for real world problems, without putting anyone at risk. Bill Webb, president and CEO of TMTA, says the simulator is a popular attraction at community events and trucking companies.

When car drivers take a turn behind the wheel, they get to see how different the reaction times are between cars and trucks. More than 36 different situations can be simulated, and car drivers come away from the experience with a new respect and understanding of big rigs.

The same thing happens when truckers – even experienced ones – get behind the wheel. Webb says the simulator can duplicate all kinds of conditions such as fatigue, icy roads, blown tires, brake failure and four-wheeler accidents. The trucker gets instant feedback from an experienced trainer about how he performed under stressful conditions. The reaction from truckers has been overwhelmingly positive. “Once a trucker realizes he can check how he is shifting, driving and reacting, he really gets into it,” Webb says. Performance can be monitored from a variety of angles, including an overhead angle. Often truckers are amazed to see that they crossed the white line when they really thought that they had not.

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“This is a corrective tool – perfect for identifying bad habits and suggesting better driving strategies,” Webb says.

TMTA is conducting a study to see if the results translate into fewer accidents but the reports so far are positive. “It’s a great way to raise your level of driving and give you experience with ‘what if’ scenarios,” Webb says.

Nothing beats actual experience on the road but this unique training tool sets up the next best thing as the industry continues to search for new ways to increase safety and decrease risks. Programs like this go beyond providing just an adequate safety program – taking safety to the next level.