As much as many fleets may wish, science has yet to develop a machine which will manufacture drivers. But advances in computer technology have allowed a number of companies to get a lot better at using virtual reality to train new drivers and make existing ones safer.
One of the leading companies in this area is Lockheed-Martin, a multi-billion-dollar corporation with its oars in many different technology ponds. One of those ponds is high-end simulation.
The company has done a lot of work for the military in this area. A large room at its Orlando-based facility is crammed with simulators which are designed to create virtual battle scenes for the crews of tanks, HUMVEEs, and other military vehicles.
The military has adopted simulation in a big way because it can save a ton by having pretend tanks shoot at each other instead of real ones. It makes even more sense when you consider that almost everything the military does is practice, anyway. Hence the U.S. Army’s motto: “All but war is simulation.”
It may be a stretch to call truck driving a war, but most drivers would agree that it can often be a battleground out on the road. So it makes some sense to use simulators to recreate that battleground and help drivers or potential drivers to prepare for battle.
Truckload giant Werner Enterprises is certainly a believer. In 1994, the fleet picked up a new customer in the West that required them to use long combination vehicles.
Needing to train drivers in a hurry, they contracted with Digitran, another simulator manufacturer, to train 14 drivers in two weeks.
The results were impressive. Over a 16-month period, the 14 new LCV drivers went 1.7 million miles without an accident. This made the company start thinking that simulators could improve the safety record of the rest of its 7,000 drivers.
Werner has been working with Lockheed-Martin for the past two years developing a new simulator and hopes to install the million-dollar system in a new safety center at its Omaha headquarters by March next year.
New drivers will get training on extreme driving conditions without having to take them to the Rocky Mountains in winter and existing drivers will use it for defensive driving instruction.
The goal is to make a significant dent in the $2,500 per year per driver the fleet currently spends on accidents.
Werner's safety director Joe Mack believes the fleet can pay for the simulator in five years. Some of the payback will be in reduced accidents. The rest will come in positive PR the fleet is certain to generate.