Avatar photo

Bison is setting a new standard for driver skills development. What will it mean for the professionals behind the wheel & the shippers who rely on them?

Many talk the talk on driver development; few are willing to make the investment necessary to add substance to the discussion in the way that BisonTr ansport has.

Driving is very much a reaction to events where decisions made in a split second can make the difference between life and death. Disastrously wrong decisions are made, or the reaction time is fatally slow, when drivers come up against a new or uncommon situation.

Many believe it’s impossible to train for every eventuality. Bison thinks otherwise. And it has brought the advanced simulation technology already used to great advantage in aviation and the military to the for-hire carrier industry to prove it. The Mark II full-motion truck simulator is the first technology of its kind among Canadian for-hire carriers and the centre-piece of Bison’s more than million-dollar investment in the Tatonka Driver Skills Development Centre. Using this technology Bison is able to simulate those rare but potentially deadly situations – the animal in the middle of the road on a dark night or the oncoming passenger car hydroplaning on a slippery road and threatening a head-on collision in busy traffic so that drivers can be truly prepared to handle them.

“We want the best-qualified and safest drivers delivering our customer’s freight. And we are now able to provide our drivers with a lifetime’s worth of real driving conditions in a matter of several hours.

The simulator gives us the opportunity to create potential situations and have drivers react and then modify their behavior to prepare themselves for the next time they may face that situation in real life,” says Rob Penner, Vice President, Operations. “The best part is that we can accomplish this in a safe and controlled environment.”

A safe and controlled environment it may be, but this simulator is much more than your typical computer-generated aid. When you’re in it, it feels real – there’s no better way to describe it. Blow a tire and start skidding on a busy highway and the adrenaline starts pumping; eyeball a car out of control on a rainy night and you’re white-knuckling your way out of a potential head-on crash.

“The sounds and the feel of the full-motion simulator made it very realistic. I had a hard time recalling that I was not in a real truck,” attests Jamie Thibold, a Bison Transport Driver.

The full-motion simulator feels real because many of its components are real. Drivers sit in an authentic, full-size truck cab with much of the authentic controls and instrumentation. The cab is mounted on a motion base, which provides a remarkably realistic feeling of movement.

Fifty training simulations include a variety of geographic areas from prairie flatlands and coastal mountains to congested city streets and loading docks as well as diverse weather and time of day conditions. Each simulation reacts to the decisions made by the driver and so is constantly changing.

Greg Fraser, a Driver Instructor with more than 25 years experience behind the wheel, explains that drivers can make a mistake while driving – cut somebody off, run over a curb and bend a rim and not even realize it. The simulator allows Bison to replay the driver’s performance under different scenarios from several different angles.

“We can replay a scenario from angles on top of the truck, beside the truck, in front of the truck. We can show drivers exactly what they are doing. This ability to replay their actions has a huge impact,” says Garth Pitzel, Director, Safety and Driver Development. The simulator also has a built in Driver Performance Scoring system, taking the subjectivity of instructor critique out of the equation. Drivers are provided with statistical results of their performance, which is exactly what is needed to affect positive change. Pitzel says that in addition to mastering driving techniques, the full-motion simulator is providing a better way to learn every-day skills, such as backing into difficult dock arrangements from an angle.

While the Mark II full-motion simulator is the centrepiece of Bison’s Tatonka Driver Skills Development Centre housed in the company’s new Winnipeg head-quarters, it is far from the only piece to the puzzle. Included in the centre are classrooms, computer labs and a smaller stationary simulator. The Tatonka program is modular in design and includes instructor-led and computer-based skills development. Drivers’ level of knowledge is tested in each area. The strategy is to combine classroom instruction and computer based skills development on safe driving techniques and legal requirements with stationary simulation on such things as proper shifting techniques and full-motion accident avoidance training.

In all, it’s a ground breaking way to ensure drivers have the skills and confidence to handle the toughest challenges the road can throw at them and allow shippers full confidence that their freight is in the best of hands.

But that’s not all.

Penner says that to Bison the investment in Tatonka goes beyond the driver skills development process.

“It’s our way of driving efficiencies and battling rising operating costs. Fuel management, for example, is a big part of the Tatonka program. To tell our clients that fuel costs are up, so you just have to pay more, without doing everything in our power to try and offset those costs, is simply wrong. We are using Tatonka to help educate our drivers on how to get the most out of the equipment in order to drive more efficiently to reduce fuel consumption. Tatonka will also allow us to make improvements in our equipment spec’ing practices. We can simulate any combination of drive-train from the engine and transmission right down to the rear end and tires. We get the engineering data from the OEMs, who are constantly evolving their own products, and simulate it under different load conditions. This helps us to identify what combination of drivetrain will operate the best in a particular business application. This is not an investment the shipper will have to worry about resulting in higher rates. This is something that will result in huge opportunities to become a more efficient company.”

Bison’s hefty investment in Tatonka is also indicative of why the company is a repeat winner of the coveted 50 Best Managed Companies Award and the Shipper’s Choice Award: this is a company blessed with a firm understanding of what it takes to succeed. For years now the ability of trucking companies to grow in a way that addresses both customer demands for capacity and employee desires for a bright future has been determined less by the availability and affordability of equipment than the significant problems they’ve en-countered in finding and retaining the drivers to run that equipment.

Bison has grown from just over 18 tractors and 32 employees in 1991 to a leading-edge organization with 650 new model trucks and about 1000 employees to-day. It has managed to do that in the midst of the worst driver shortage the industry has seen because it has committed itself to making the driver a central part of its strategic focus.

As Bison President & CEO Don Streuber aptly puts it, “he who has the drivers wins.”

It’s an investment in the front-line people who have contributed so much to Bison’s phenomenal performance. And one which Penner expects will attract even more drivers to Bison’s doors.

Certainly the message to drivers is impossible to miss.

In the words of President Streuber: “We have almost 800 drivers and nothing is more im-portant than their safety as well as the safety of the public that we share our roads with. We are putting our money where our mouth is on that account.”

Next week: WIRED FOR EFFICIENCY – A close look at the leading-edge technologies Bison is leveraging to improve life on the road and boost customer service

Avatar photo

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.