Truck Driving Simulator Excites Idaho High School Students

A student tries out the truck simulator. (Allen Hodges/Idaho Trucking Association)

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A new Idaho Trucking Association program using a truck simulator traveling to high schools appears to be paying off, by getting teens interested in driving careers.

Allen Hodges, ITA president and CEO, said the association launched the program because trucks sit idle in parking lots rather than moving freight due to a shortage of 5,000 drivers in Idaho. The national shortage of commercial drivers is estimated at 80,000, according to American Trucking Associations, and Idaho’s efforts are among many across the nation to attract younger truck drivers.



The truck and trailer used for the simulator. (Allen Hodges/Idaho Trucking Association)

In January, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration created the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program. It is meant to train drivers under 21 years for interstate commerce who before were limited to intrastate operations. In addition, a Louisville, Ky.-based initiative called the Next Generation in Trucking Association educates high school administrators and students about trucking careers.

The Idaho Trucking Association raised $70,000 to buy the truck and trailer, with the state contributing $242,000 in a Workforce Development Training Fund grant.

“Using the simulator to introduce students to a career in truck driving is more effective than talking and using literature and pictures,” Hodges said, adding that both boys and girls were equally interested in becoming drivers, with many wanting to go inside a second time.

The back of the trailer used for the simulator. (Allen Hodges/Idaho Trucking Association)

The new simulator program — which provides multiple driving scenarios in a realistic experience — is so popular that 20 high schools requested it within the first 24 hours after its unveiling Jan. 26 at Middleton High School, Hodges said.

“The students really enjoyed the simulator,” said Marc Gee, superintendent of Middleton School District. “Several said it was a good chance to see what it was like. Several, who have driven larger vehicles on their farms, noted that it seemed to be realistic based on what they had seen before.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a Jan. 27 statement applauding the ITA for the program.

Gee recommended this type of hands-on approach with teens to “spark ideas for future careers” in truck driving. “As educators we are excited anytime we can help students see and move toward a positive, productive career,” he added.

Another indication of the early success of the simulator program is that it may lead to a high school program for commercial driver licenses.

Gee said it has “opened up a dialogue with our state Career-Technical Education department about the possibility of creating a pathway in high school to prepare students for their CDL upon graduation.”

At age 18, teens can get a CDL to drive trucks within the state, which Hodges said would help alleviate the driver shortage with jobs available for beverage and dump truck drivers.

While commenting that it’s difficult to predict how many students will pursue a truck driving career, he said he knows of four motivated teens, who already drive trucks on farms, and 40 others who are very interested.

The simulator is set up inside the trailer. (Allen Hodges/Idaho Trucking Association)

The simulator is being taken back-to-back to schools in the same area to maximize efficiency. The ITA requires a minimum of 50 students, at least 15 years old, sign up at a school.

Hodges recently heard from a teacher who asked for the simulator because it provides an important alternative career to students who aren’t interested in attending college.

The grant requires the simulator to travel throughout the state and be shown to 2,000 students. Hodges said he applied for the grant in September, and it was OK’d a month later.

Hodges encourages other state trucking associations to use simulators because “it’s a really good educational tool and one of the best ways to introduce students to trucking careers.”

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