Northark Truck Driving Program Gets Simulator

    Northark student Brian Lackey uses the College’s new truck driving simulator, which is a training tool to help students learn the basics of driving a semi. The simulator is used in addition to hands-on driving.

    Press Release from North Arkansas College:

    Obstacles are piling up for Brian Lackey as he carefully drives a semi on the interstate. Traffic is heavy. A car accident at an intersection has him making a hard right into a crowded downtown area. Suddenly, a car pulls out in front of him. When it finally seems like the road is clear for Lackey, it starts to snow, making for an icy roadway.

    The challenges might seem like an impossible streak of bad luck, but it is all manufactured through North Arkansas College’s new truck driving simulator.

    The simulator, purchased with a Regional Workforce Grant, helps students learn the basics of how to drive a semi before they ever get behind the wheel of a real truck. The simulator consists of three screens, representing what a person sees from a windshield and windows, and a “cab” with control pedals, gauges, knobs and switches.

    Northark Truck Driving Instructor Charlie Duggan can throw a variety of problems at the students, and they must figure out how to handle the situations. The simulations are tied to the curriculum and show students’ proficiencies in maneuvers, risk awareness and night-time driving among other things.

    “It doesn’t replace actual hands-on learning, but it helps with some lessons that we can’t do in real life,” Duggan said. “We can’t always get out in snow, ice or rain, but we can with the simulator.”

    The simulator recreates the sounds and feels of driving a real tractor trailer, complete with bumps and acceleration movement. The system also allows for different types of trucks, including automatic or manual transmissions, and different sizes of trailers.

    Duggan can set specific scenarios for the students or he can control functions from his instructor computer and force students to suddenly deal with unexpected hazards.

    “I can make traffic be heavy and then it starts to rain,” he said. “Students have to learn how to respond. I can have them driving on the freeway or on a two-lane country road.”

    Lackey, a new Northark truck driving student, said there is a learning curve to the simulator, but it is a great tool to help students get comfortable before driving a real semi.

    “After using the simulator, you are not as intimidated to get in a truck as you would be if you had not had that practice,” he said. “It gives you a little bit more confidence to drive a truck.”

    Student Melody Tapprich said the biggest advantage to training with the simulator is the forgiving environment.

    “It’s better to make mistakes on the simulator than in real life,” she said.

    The new simulator gives instructors a solid way to show proficiencies. At the end of each session, the system displays the amount of time the student was speeding, how many times he or she did not use turn signals, how many times the truck crossed the centerline and more.
    “With the simulator, we can show that students know the information and passed all of their training sessions,” said Scott Howie, Northark Technical Center director.

    An additional benefit the simulator provides is cost savings.

    “If a student is struggling in the program, he or she can use the simulator for extra practice and not use fuel or put wear and tear on the trucks,” Duggan said. “That saves money for our program.”

    The simulator also can have a positive impact for local businesses. Duggan said he plans to work with companies to use the simulator for the training or remediation of their drivers.

    Northark’s truck driving classes are scheduled at different times throughout the year, and the program is financial aid eligible. For more information or to enroll, call Duggan at (870) 391-3191.

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