Launch Slideshow

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The Ultimate Test Drive

The Ultimate Test Drive

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    Jim Simpson, vice president of risk management at Walker Concrete, demonstrates how drivers navigate through a 180-degree video landscape. Two LCD side mirrors simulate the rear view of their virtual ready-mix truck.

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    Trainer Bill Gainey monitors drivers' progress from every angle and throws an occasional curve ball from the operator console.

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Like the drivers, Walker's insurance company also acknowledges the effort, which is reflected in its rates for 2007. Drivers can also qualify for 10% to 15% personal insurance discounts. Rather than insisting on approving each new driver candidate, insurers now allow Walker to make its own hiring decisions, with the help of the simulator.

Process of elimination

“I've been able to eliminate several potential driver candidates just by putting them on the machine,” says Bill Gainey, fleet safety manager. Gainey is behind the controls when a driver gets into the cab. His monitors show what the driver is seeing up ahead and on both sides, as well as an overall view of the driving scenario, including other vehicles, pedestrians, and landscape.

While watching the driver's performance, Gainey can change almost any variable. He can make it rain or snow, change day to night, simulate a blown-out tire, and even make a tree fall across the road. After being put through the paces of the training, drivers are generally, “a lot more careful when they walk out,” he says.

With various software options, the machine can create any driving situation one can imagine, including trips through the country, cities, and small towns. It can also be programmed to address a driver's specific weaknesses, like failing to watch his right-hand side mirror. This versatility allows each trainee to get the maximum benefit from the experience.

The simulator can mimic a long-haul tractor-trailer, dump truck, fire truck, school bus, or any other kind of truck on the road. “There's not a shift pattern or rear-end ratio out there you can't duplicate,” says Simpson. This might explain the simulator's popularity, along with it being one of only three in the country. This year, Walker has already hosted more than 200 training sessions for everyone from long-haul truckers to garbage truck drivers.

Walker offers five different training packages, ranging from driver assessment to emergency maneuvers, and hourly programs for specific needs. At the Walker Training Center, drivers start with an orientation in the training room next to the simulator.

Then, each driver takes a turn driving, while others watch his progress on an LCD screen and big-screen television in the classroom. All drivers must complete video tests in Walker's computer lab after their first run, and finally return to the simulator to show what they've learned.

Safety is ingrained in Walker Concrete. The producer has won the Georgia Department of Labor Award of Excellence every year since 2002 for the fewest number of accidents. It has been nominated for the Commissioner of Labor's Top Safety Award for 2007. Simpson and Walker are both candidates for the state Safety Council's Top Safety Advocate award.

Visitwww.walkerconcrete.comfor more on Walker Concrete. For more about vehicle simulation and to see videos and demonstrations, visit MPRI's Web site atwww.mpri.com.

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