Those looking to get their commercial driver’s license at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College can do so now in a new truck simulator.
Michael Franklin, the program coordinator, began working at the school in August and has been driving trucks for 23 years. He said they received the simulator around mid-October.
“Most people assume it’s like a video game and it’s really not,” Franklin said.
The simulator contains a seat and truck dashboard with a steering wheel. There are three large screens that show where the truck is going and what is happening. The brakes on the simulator are heavy, similar to an actual truck. The simulator will move and shift as it is driven.
Franklin said the simulator is not designed to replace the actual truck driving, but it is a good start for those who have never done it before.
The simulator is heavily customizable with control of many different aspects and scenarios including weather, traffic, road rage, terrain, truck loads and wind.
It also contains practice videos and scenarios to help hone different specific skills such as parallel parking and going in reverse.
Franklin said the simulator is picky. While driving in a simulation of a town complete with traffic lights, stop signs, driving lanes and other drivers, it will indicate on screen violations and mistakes a user makes.
He said even in a regular truck, students and teachers might overlook small mistakes, but the simulator does not. He also said one of the most difficult aspects to learn is the gear shifting, which can be hard to manage while also learning how to drive a large vehicle.
Franklin said companies also have an opportunity to come and check the scores on the simulator for hiring purposes.
“You got to be aware of everything. You have to be a major multitasker,” Franklin said.
CDL classes at the college are about four weeks long with one truck to use for practice among students.
With COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, Franklin said the simulator also helps with social distancing since now multiple students can practice with the simulator and actual truck without having to crowd in or around the truck.
Franklin said there are about 10 truck simulators in the state, with four different versions costing between $40,000 to $100,000. He said the purchase was made possible through a grant.
He said there are about six to eight trucking schools within a 60 to 70-mile radius, and the CDL classes at ECTC is the only one with the simulator.
Since teaching at ECTC, he said four students were able to pass the first time taking the test for their CDL, with the usual rate in a school of students passing the first time between 50 and 60 percent.