VR Training Combats Trucking Industry’s Critical Driver Shortage

To many of us, truck driving and virtual reality (VR) using simulation are at the opposite end of the technology spectrum. However, VR using proper simulation is the solution to a major problem that exists in the world of trucking and freight movement. That problem is replacing the professional drivers who are retiring. We will be short by as much as 90,000 drivers annually as we look forward with a 900,000-manpower shortage over the next 10 years. There are many problems associated with this shortage, but the solution should be centered on the recruitment of young drivers into the market.

The future world of drivers will come, to a great extent, from the young, the millennials. The very people who have grown up using the latest in technology in their everyday lives. They are the ones that are in the stores buying VR Goggles, driving racing Sims, using VR for their drones; they grew up using simulation. The historical training method of classroom lecture and then straight into driving a real truck is not the way to attract these young people into the profession.

The industry must embrace the current technology with which young people are very familiar. This technology is already used in so many areas of training, so why not trucking? If we incorporate and market training for a professional driver’s license (CDL) using VR and the current advanced simulators, we have a winning result. This is not a substitute for, but a winning addition to behind-the-wheel training. If recruiters in the industry can present this technologically advanced method of training to potential drivers, they would be much more likely to attract those potential drivers to join the world of professional truck drivers. Not only does the use of this advanced technology attract young drivers but it develops a much better trained and safer driver. This is a win/win for the industry, for the driver and for the public.

The training methods that are available in many specific areas are antiquated when compared to training in a simulator and particularly, with VR. Use of a simulator is not a replacement for a professional trainer or behind-the-wheel training in a real truck. However, they are a necessary part of the training process when you look at the fact that you cannot accurately train a front tire blowout, loss of control on icy roads, extreme wind, mountains, accident avoidance and many other events the driver will inevitably experience at some time. Just as it is too risky to train emergency events in an airplane, it is too risky to train these events in a real truck.

This new advanced training is not only for new drivers. What company can prevail against a lawsuit where a driver loses control because of a tire blowout or a patch of ice and several members of the public are killed, when training against such an accident is readily available but not used? What possible defense can there be against not developing the safest driver possible?

Technology advances for this kind of simulator training are producing a new, higher level of safe training. These advances in technology are just like the advances in the technology used in cell phones and personal computers. Now we have smart phones and laptops which are not only less costly but perform at a new higher level than when they were first introduced into the market. Advanced technology should also reduce the cost of truck driver simulation training, making it available to everyone in the industry.

Patents have been issued for the realistic feeling of motion so that this motion can be included for a fraction of the previous price of motion. This new realistic motion drastically reduces the probability of Simulator Adaptation Syndrome (motion sickness). The motion presently being used does not replicate the motion actually felt in the truck. If the body does not feel what the eyes are seeing in a simulator, the motion sickness usually follows. When a driver experiences this motion sickness, not only do they lose the positive learning experience but they never want to get in a simulator again. The right motion is the key to driver training simulation.

The demand for professional drivers will not be solved unless and until we begin to use the advanced technology now available to attract the next group of drivers.

John Kearney is CEO of Advanced Training Systems, a high-tech simulator technology and engineering firm that provides cutting-edge adaptive training systems to improve training and create safer drivers.