Learning curves

by John G. Smith

EDMONTON, Alta. – Mike Morigeau is probably the only trainer in Canada who’s happy when his students roll a truck. It’s specially equipped equipment, mind you, but he feels his company’s Rollover Dynamics Program is the best way to teach drivers the art of keeping a rig on all wheels.

Mike’s Driver Education officially launched the day-long course in April, taking traditional collision avoidance courses to a new level. Instead of focusing on skid pads, its truck takes wide corners on CFB Edmonton’s tarmac. And the idea is to pass the point of no return.

The Volvo VN used in the course is hauling a 53-foot Trailmobile highboy loaded with three septic tanks that put 24,000 lb. on the rear axles and 12,000 lb. on the drives, and sit 1.8 metres above the trailer deck. Most important, the trailer is also equipped with outriggers – really big training wheels, if you will – to ensure the expensive iron doesn’t roll completely on its side, putting all 24 wheels in the air.

“Many drivers (involved in rollovers) feel their loads shift. That’s likely to happen after the wheels of the vehicle go up,” Morigeau says.

“When you’re sitting behind a desk, it’s easy to say you shouldn’t go too fast,” he adds, referring to the approach taken by many fleet trainers. “When you’re Billy Bob out on the highway, how fast is too fast when you go around a corner? That’s the bottom line. How fast is too fast?”

That’s discovered in the four hours of practical work, and the point of no return that they get to feel first hand. “Students are up there in 2-1/2 seconds at 60 km-h in a wide-radius curve.”

So too are the students taught the basics of rollover thresholds, so they can understand the roles played by the centre of gravity, the radius of a corner, suspension conditions and tire inflation. Then they’re taught to do post-trip inspections to spot the conditions that indicate close calls.

But he wants to stress that the program isn’t designed to teach students the upper limits of the speeds at which they can take corners. “We want to teach drivers how to recognize a potentially dangerous corner.”

Morigeau has been driving since 1971 and has never rolled a truck.

“They guys who taught me were pretty old dogs,” he says. And Morigeau learned well.

But in his life reconstructing commercial vehicle accidents, he’s learned that today’s drivers still need the program.

“I have 25 case files of rollovers,” Morigeau says. “We’re flipping them all over in Canada – one a week here on Hwy. 1 and 5. We have a tremendous amount of rollovers.

And he gets paid either way: $100 per hour to reconstruct an accident, or $250 to train a driver for the day. n

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