Louisiana Tech trains fleet drivers with simulator

The Louisiana Department of Labor has awarded a two-year, $1.5 million grant to a technical college and a consortium of four Louisiana-based trucking companies to fund a driver training program that uses advanced simulation technology.

Louisiana’s Incumbent Worker Training Program (IWPT), the source of the grant, was created in 1997 by the state Legislature to help Louisiana businesses train their current workers. The program is funded by money left over from the state’s workers’ compensation fund, said Debbie Burkheiser, dean of workforce development at Louisiana Technical College, the school awarded the grant.

About $1.1 million from the grant allowed the training provider, Louisiana Technical College’s Acadian Campus in Crowley, and the trucking consortium to purchase a new tractor and customized trailer equipped with four state-of-the art driver training simulators. The consortium includes Total Transportation, Dupre Transport, John N. John Truck Line and Milk Products LP (DBA Borden’s).

The rest of the grant pays for operating expenses associated with the highly specialized driver safety training program. A full-time instructor from the college, Nick Treadway, will provide training to more than 700 current drivers and new hires of the four trucking companies.

The companies will get the equipment and instructor for one week a month at any facilities they choose. The companies have booked the 18-wheeler for the next two years, Burkheiser said. Treadway and fleet safety supervisors will use the simulators to train drivers in shifting techniques, fuel management, emergency maneuvers, circles of influence, speed and space management and adverse driving conditions.

Dupre Transport, a 360-truck petroleum hauler based in Lafayette, is the first company to have the simulators on its site. So far, the feedback from drivers has been all positive, said Reggie Dupre, chief executive officer.

“Our goal is to become the safest carrier in North America,” he said. “The simulators will help us do that by coaching drivers along the way.”

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William John, director of marketing for John N. John Truck Line, a liquid bulk hauler based in Crowley, said the company will use the simulators to give drivers hands-on lessons in how to react to dangerous situations.

“One way we’re employing this is for our drivers that drive in the Northeast to train for ice,” John said. “This will give guys experience of driving on ice without having to roll one over in real life. If we prevent one accident, it is worth it. I don’t see any downsides to this.”

In addition to improving driver safety, John said the simulator-based training should enable the company to expand its pool of drivers by training drivers with no tanker experience.

To receive the grant and initiate the driver training program, Louisiana Technical College and some of the consortium members have worked for more than two years, Burkheiser said.

Drivers who complete the training should expect to see a 38 percent reduction in accidents and a 5 percent increase in fuel economy, said John Peters, a regional sales manager for MPRI Ship Analytics of Salt Lake City, provider of the simulators used in the program.