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Simulator To Develop Driver Skills at College of the Ouachitas

4 min read

College of the Ouachitas is planning a high-tech way to address the truck driver shortage in Arkansas.

The two-year college in Malvern, formerly known at Ouachita Technical College, is scheduled to receive an $800,000 truck-driving simulator this summer that it hopes to put into use in the fall. Jody Callahan, the chairman of the college’s applied sciences division, said the program will train up to eight students at a time in four-week segments.

Students will need to pass 160 hours to receive certification for a commercial driver’s license.

After Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke at the Arkansas Trucking Association convention in Hot Springs on April 30, Callahan stood up to invite Hutchinson to get a firsthand look at the program. Callahan later joked that he hadn’t planned on attending the convention until he learned of Hutchinson’s attendance the day of, so he rushed to Hot Springs.

The truck-driving simulator is serious business, though. The 53-foot trailer will have four simulation stations inside along with a pop-out classroom and three 55-inch high-definition television screens.

“Three community colleges want to use it, and it hasn’t been delivered yet,” Callahan said. “This will be light-years ahead of anything out there.”

The college ordered the simulator with some of the funds it received from a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in September 2013. The Southwest Arkansas Community College Consortium, which consists of seven colleges, received $8.4 million, of which slightly more than $1.8 million went to College of the Ouachitas.

Callahan said several trucking companies, including one in Kentucky, have reached out to College of the Ouachitas about partnerships. Malvern is conveniently located in central Arkansas close to numerous trucking companies.

“They’re all employing truck drivers,” Callahan said. “There was a needs analysis done [for the Department of Labor grant], and we rose to that challenge. It will help fill some of that truck driving needs. It’s statewide.”

Maverick USA Inc. of North Little Rock has a partnership with Arkansas State University-Newport to train eight to 10 hand-selected students every four weeks for $2,500. Callahan said nothing is set, but the simulation program has an estimated cost of between $3,000 and $3,500, an estimate that Callahan stressed was preliminary.

Maverick CEO Steve Williams said the current driver shortage requires a cooperative system to fill it. There are numerous truck-driving schools throughout the state — both independent schools and at community colleges — but with little consistently applied quality standards.

“It’s like the wild, wild West,” Williams said. “We need to churn out quality instead of just quantity.”

Callahan said the state-of-the-art simulator will allow in-depth training for students. The computer can be programmed, Callahan said, for any type of driving situation with traffic and weather options.

Want to train students to drive a tanker of gasoline at dusk in the rainy weather? Done. Want to train them to drive a flatbed in high winds on a mountainous route? Check.

The simulator also reflects the “roll, pitch and yaw” of a real truck during operation.

“It’s truly like mounting a cab of a tractor-trailer,” Callahan said. “It’s the whole spiel. If you bump into a curb, you’d feel the sensation of what it was really like to bump into a curb. It literally feels like you’re inside a car wreck.”

College of the Ouachitas already has a tractor that Callahan said will allow the training program to be used statewide. Callahan said he envisioned taking the simulation trailer on the road to nearby colleges and trucking companies in the future.

“This gives us the ability to do all of those things in one package,” Callahan said.

In addition, Callahan said, local school districts will be able to use the simulator in the summer to keep their bus drivers properly trained. Callahan said he has discussed the simulator being used by trucking companies for additional training for their already-certified drivers.

Callahan said using a simulator could help current drivers drive more efficiently thanks to the programmable format. If a driver can shift gears in a way that improves mpg by 1 percent, how much would that mean to a company that has thousands of drivers covering thousands of miles every week?

Callahan also said the simulator can be programmed to recreate a specific accident if a company wants to train for those scenarios.

“We can have the exact accident if we have a copy of the report, and we can program it in to relive that for instruction purposes,” Callahan said. “

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