State-of-the-art driving simulator aids recruitment and training for Michigan school district

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Barely a week goes by without us being aware of the many challenges faced by employers in the transportation industry, and school districts in particular, when it comes to hiring and retaining qualified CDL drivers. For school bus drivers, these shortages remain critical across the country.

Four years ago, an editorial in the Washington Post lamented a nationwide shortage of truckers — more than 51,000 of them — even then. Shortages of school bus drivers were not far behind. The statistics for this year are virtually unchanged. On the contrary, they have been aggravated by the pandemic. In fact, nine states have deployed National Guard troops to fill empty school bus cockpits just to get kids to and from school.

Commenting on the severity of the national shortage of school bus drivers, Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, said: “This is undoubtedly a national problem, similar to what we are also seeing in service industries.

The challenge is: what are we going to do about it?

To stem the bleeding of skilled help, many districts have rolled out a number of good ideas to retain their existing drivers by offering higher salaries, improved benefits, recruiting incentives and signing bonuses.

While districts, at least those that can afford these extra incentives, can be successful in attracting and retaining qualified drivers, Michigan’s first and oldest middle school district, Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, try something new – avant-garde Technology.

A school bus driver from the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District takes a ride with the driver simulator.

Here are some of the impressive hardware features of the simulator:

– Three 55″ color HD flat screen monitors

– Intel-based computers with high-speed platform and graphics cards
– A “glass dash” LCD dashboard

– Sturdy steel frame and ergonomically correct cockpit

– Force feedback steering

– OEM steering wheel, shift components and cockpit controls

– Transmission configurability for multiple shifting and gearing applications, from manual to automatic

– Air suspension seat with 3-point seat belt

– Original headlight and hazard warning light control switches

– A separate teacher control station

Simulator software specifics include:

– Software V3.3 premier edition with automatic grading/grading

– Fully interactive multi-screen driving environment with 24-hour atmospheric simulation

– MS Windows operating system

– High-fidelity modeling of TruckSim vehicle dynamics with different tractor and load configurations (not only for school bus applications, but also for flat loads, semi-trailer partial loads, load transfer and even tank truck configurations)

– A comprehensive training program with over 40 lessons and over 80 exercises and driving scenarios

– Unlimited driving training in: city, highway, mountain, test track and practice scenarios

– Collision avoidance and multiple adverse weather scenarios

– High-resolution textured 3D imaging on all screens to faithfully reproduce reality

Enter Simulator Systems International’s EF-Truck/Bus simulator system. It was delivered to Char-Em ISD’s Boyne City site in late December.

The simulator is a full-scale working model that mirrors the cockpit of a school bus or tractor-trailer. The platform replicates the exact touch, tone, sound, look and feel of every aspect of what a driver would feel sitting behind the wheel – right down to the automatically air-suspended driver’s seat and the sound of the pneumatic door closing. The driver can even physically feel and see the vehicle’s response to any number of instructor inputs presented to the driver while using the simulator, such as fog, rain, ice, snow and even mud on all types of terrain, day and night. night conditions.

Its primary focus will be as a training tool to improve safety by sharpening the situational awareness and reaction skills of existing drivers from the safety of a simulator. It’s also a great resource for introducing people to an authentic working cockpit of a school bus that might otherwise be too intimidating to even try. This may be the experience they need to build their confidence enough to take the next step and sign up as a school bus driver.

With a 1,200 square mile Northern Lower Michigan school district to traverse, our goals are to use the simulator to train our own drivers to hone their critical driving skills and to use this advanced technology as a tool for recruiting to generate interest in a career field that desperately needs qualified candidates.

Also, we hope that our school bus assistants will be interested in improving their skills to become bus drivers by letting them try their hand at driving a bus through the simulator, to see if it suits them. For those who successfully train into the ranks of drivers, we offer significant financial incentives to reward them for their efforts.

There is evidence that these efforts are already paying off. Shortly after acquiring the simulator, I was approached by another staff member outside of our Char-Em ISD transport department who saw the simulator and asked me what it would take to get his CDL. After a quick tour of the equipment, she was even more excited at the prospect and was convinced that it would suit her perfectly.


Related: School Bus Driver Simulator offers real-world training in Texas


We already plan to add a second simulator in a mobile platform that will allow us to provide this technology and training to students in the 11 school districts we serve, expanding our award-winning career technology education offerings to them even more. far.

A close view of the utility vehicle simulator.

These include course offerings for automotive technology, construction trades, powerline workers, public safety, and welding. Being able to expose students to what it would take to earn their CDL – which many of these skilled trades require – makes this new simulator technology an invaluable addition to welding, heavy equipment, aviation and construction simulators. drones that are already being used as key training resources and recruiting tools through Char-Em ISD’s Career Tech Ed programs.

Enthusiasm for using the latest in driving simulation technology to attract talent to the school bus remains very high. We are confident that this investment in technology will attract new bus drivers and keep current drivers safe by sharpening their already sharp skills, which will benefit our students, staff and communities for years to come.


Phillip Haldaman is the Transportation Coordinator for the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District in northwestern Lower Michigan. If you would like more information on using this simulation technology or would like to stop by for a test drive, the author can be contacted at [email protected]

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