By Bill ArmstrongNovember 7, 2008
A car drives down a winding country road at night, picking up speed. Just around a curve, a motorcycle in the oncoming lane crosses in front of the driver, causing an accident. Instead of calling for an ambulance, the driver can simply put the vehicle in park, turn the key and start driving again. This is just one possible scenario student drivers could encounter while using new simulators in Building 737 at Marshall Army Airfield.
The privately owned vehicle simulators are part of the Army Traffic Safety Training Program and were provided to Fort Riley by Installation Management Command. Twenty driver consoles with automatic transmissions and five with manual transmissions fill a large room in the training facility. Richard Hearron, garrison safety manager, said he hopes to get the room filled soon with novice and high-risk drivers.
"If you go by Army statistics, a POV accident is the number one, non-combat killer of Soldiers in the range of 18 and 26 years of age," Hearron said. "But a high-risk driver could also be someone who just has multiple traffic offenses or Soldiers with DUIs."
Many Soldiers have never driven a POV, and Hearron would like to give them some time on a simulator to learn from their mistakes before they get behind the wheel of a real vehicle.
"This will teach you from the very basics of learning how to start the car to actually driving in heavy traffic in the city," Hearron said. "If you do something wrong, it will pop up on the screen immediately and stop the scenario and then take you back to the beginning."
Two contractors will teach drivers how to use the simulators, in addition to three people from the Installation Safety Office.
As with a real car, the student driver sits in a seat before a dashboard that holds a steering wheel and gauges. The windshield is comprised of three video screens giving front left, center and front right views. Brake and gas pedals are at the normal positions in front of the driver's feet. When the driver turns the ignition key, he'll hear the sound of a starter, followed by the purr of an idling engine. Before pulling the vehicle onto a road from the right shoulder, the driver must first disengage the parking brake and signal for a left turn.
"If you had not put on your turn signal, it would have stopped you and told you that," Hearron said.
To reduce the number of motorcycle accidents, IMCOM included one motorcycle simulator. The device looks like the real thing, minus the wheels. Student drivers straddle the simulator as they would any motorcycle to begin a lesson. Hearron wants to ensure every Fort Riley Soldier gets simulator time before going out to buy a motorcycle.
"When we actually put these in operation, we'll have all the personal protective equipment over here - the helmet, gloves - everything that a Soldier is supposed to wear in accordance with the (commanding general's) policy memorandum," he said. "So they'll actually be on the motorcycle learning before they get out and ride one."
The motorcycle simulator costs about $120,000, but Hearron said its money well spent.
"I think this is going to be a great tool and a combat multiplier for the division," he said.
Student drivers on the new simulators may someday include Family members, such as high school students, Hearron said.
The simulators will be moved in spring 2009 to a new facility in Building 7305 on Custer Hill. Hearron said he would like to make the new facility a one-stop-shop for drivers by adding a motorcycle driving range and some classrooms.