San Bernadino, CA, Sun: Simulators Let Companies Train Drivers

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

By Rebecca U. Cho
The Sun

Truck and bus drivers are hitting the road with researchers from Cal State San Bernardino - at least, in the virtual sense.

Commercial drivers, and the companies that employ them, will soon have access to driving simulation technology that could improve road safety. The university plans to bring six simulators to the Inland Empire by September through a partnership with the University of Iowa, home of a major research facility for driving simulation.

"If we can train commercial drivers and make them better drivers, it's good for trucking companies, buses and everyone who uses California's local roads," said John Wu, the director of the Leonard Transportation Center at Cal State San Bernardino.

Costing about $15,000 to $20,000 each, the simulators are versions of the University of Iowa's larger simulator, a domed structure the size of a high school gymnasium and containing an actual car. Wu said the technology would include three 42-inch screens simulating road conditions in front of the driver, who would sit in a truck cabin with a seat, shifters and steering wheel.

The equipment would allow researchers to advise drivers on shifting and cruising techniques, as well as on how to save on energy costs.

Researchers from both universities were demonstrating a desktop version of the simulator last weekend at the Southern California Transportation and Logistics Summit in Ontario.

Inland trucking companies and bus systems have expressed interest in using the simulators to screen and train their drivers. 

Ted Honcharik, chief executive officer of Riverside-based Pacific Tank Lines, said the technology could save his company time in screening hires. Pacific Tank Lines, a petroleum carrier for large oil companies such as Chevron, employs about 150 drivers who drive 80 trucks.

"That's one of our biggest concerns when hiring somebody - that the driver understands all the safety aspects of driving a tanker trunk," Honcharik said. "The simulators hopefully will ensure we're hiring the right people and give us a way to train existing drivers in the future."

The simulators will benefit the development of trucking companies in the Inland Empire, Honcharik said.

"One of the largest groups of people working are truck drivers," Honcharik said. "There's a tremendous amount of warehousing out here, a lot of labor. Trucking is going to continue to grow here."

Drivers with Omnitrans, which provides bus services in the San Bernardino Valley area, already receive mandatory eight-hour training every year. But the simulators would add expensive technology to the area that was not previously available to improve driver safety and technique, said Wendy Williams, a spokeswoman for Omnitrans. About 400 drivers work in the bus system.

"Some of those investments are beyond our grasp," Williams said. "That's why we would be excited about the opportunity made available locally to benefit transit drivers as well as other types of drivers.