Simulator gives truckies’ on-road skills a reality check
THE steering wheel tugs violently to the left as a front tyre blows.
Against my instinct, I accelerate and get the truck back under control before easing off slowly and coming to a halt.
Thankfully, I won’t have to change the tyre as this is just a simulation. Welcome to the McColls driver training simulator, a $500,000 state-ofthe-art machine that is incredibly realistic.
I’ve just completed a steertyre blowout exercise, which is used to help remind drivers of the best way to respond.
Out of interest, I do it again and this time I jump on the brakes after the tyre blows, the exact opposite of what you should do in the real world. In an instant, the tanker veers off the road and into the barrier. It’s a sobering experience.
McColls is one of Australia’s largest transport companies and operates a fleet of more than 400 tankers that carry everything from milk to petrol.
Its CEO Simon Thornton saw one of the simulators operated by driver training group DECA and decided to go one better and get the latest and greatest model, running the latest software.
The simulator, built by US company MRI, is being used to help improve driver safety and the company’s management is confident it will also help slash fuel bills and reduce driver training costs.
McColls’ national driver training manager Ron Lewis explains that being able to simulate a steer-tyre blowout in a controlled environment is a great advantage.
Most drivers have never had one, so we can simulate it in here. That’s great because it’s certainly not something you could or would want to simulate on the road,’’ he says.
Other mechanical failures can also be simulated. We can do things like put in a brake drum fire. If they don’t pick it up (in the virtual rear-view mirror) it will get to the point where it locks up the wheel in the simulator.’’
The driving simulator is especially portable as it is mounted in a custom-built body on the back of a Volvo truck that needed a new home after McColls closed its general freight division last year.
Its airbag suspension means it’s perfect for transporting the valuable simulator to various east coast depots.
The body is divided into two sections, one is a training room and the other houses the simulator, which is made up of a dashboard and three plasma screens in front of a seat and a RoadRanger gear-shifter.
McColls’ trainer Colin Dyke sits at another computer, running a program that controls the simulator.
He can select a range of different locations, from cities to highways, flat sections or hills, and dial in any weather conditions including rail, hail, wind and more.
The company that built the software asked McColls for details of every truck, down to the weights, tyre sizes, axle lengths and power figures to ensure accurate representation.
It certainly feels life-like when you get behind the steering wheel, which has force feedback that imitates a real one. It takes a little while to get used to the different feel and the biggest difference is the lack of G-forces and vibrations.
I can attest the simulated non-synchro manual is accurate and it crunches loudly a few times during my run . . . just as it would in real life.
Every part of the simulator driving test is recorded so drivers can watch what they have done in great detail, including every throttle, brake and steering input.
The McColls state-of-the-art driver training simulator is an incredibly realistic machine