When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Bishop State's truck driving program was one of many programs to feel the punch. With no face-to-face instruction, and not enough room in the tractors to properly social distance, it was hard finding safe ways to teach students the skills needed to handle an 18-wheeler.

Lead instructor Bradley Wallace and instructor Thomas Praytor got creative and tried creating a divider using a shower curtain to separate the driver and the passenger. However, in the end, in order to stay in line with the local, state, and federal guidelines to help flatten the curve, the truck driving instructors and their students were forced off the roads. At that time there was no way to virtually learn how to drive a 40-ton tractor-trailer and all truck driving classes were halted.

But things have since changed.

Within the last year, Bishop State has purchased four truck driving simulators to continue teaching the truck driving program both during and post-pandemic. Instructors say it is a great way to help teach students the basics of truck driving to help them safely get out on the road and get started.

"I've always not been a proponent for simulators because the money we paid for this we could buy a truck," says Wallace. "But now that the technology has changed and it's gotten a whole lot better, this can actually really simulate what's actually going on. Students are doing more than just looking at a screen. These simulators are life-like and they are interacting with the program. They aren’t just watching it happen, they are making it happen.

"With these upgrades, we can simulate snow, mountains, icy roads, and other scenarios which we may not naturally have down here in Mobile. We can even simulate a drunk driver like they are impaired."

Instructors say the simulators allow students to concentrate on driving the truck without distractions from traffic and road hazards. Students can get a feel and learn the controls of the truck before being on public roads and highways.

Wallace says the simulators can even simulate various brands of vehicles and how they all differ by manufacturers. He says one of the best functions of the simulators is that students can learn how to shift a non-synchronized transmission that requires double clutching each shift. This technique takes lots of practice and when done wrong can damage the truck with costly repairs. The simulators help save time and money.

“With the simulator, we can cater to the student’s needs,” says Wallace. “If a student is struggling with turns we can have him making turns all day. If there is a problem with shifting, we can make them shift all day. Whatever their weakness is we can have them do it until they get it right.”

"You get toys like this when you have the best truck driving program in the state!" says Bishop State President Dr. Reggie Sykes. "I'm proud of what we are doing with our truck driving program and I'm proud of our instructors and all they are doing to keep this program the best in the state!"

"The students come here for eight weeks and have a life-changing experience," says instructor Billy Toxey. "I have students who just left and both of them are already driving a truck, making a living, supporting their families. In 8 weeks it amazes them because they come in they say 'Whoa. This is more than I thought it was.' I just tell them if you will commit yourself, come to class, do what you are supposed to do, we can teach you this in 8 weeks. It's pretty tough, but if they apply themselves, they can leave here with their CDL.”

Bishop State teaches truck driving classes in Mobile and also has a site in Jackson, Alabama. To learn more about the Bishop State Truck Driving program, call 251-660-1733 or email truckdriving@bishop.edu.

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