‘Hot mess on wheels’

imagesLast week, I got to try my hand at trucking on a simulator at Watsontown Trucking Company.

Let’s just say I won’t be applying for my CDL anytime soon.

This commentary appeared in the Daily Item Friday, and I thought it would be good for the blogosphere as well.

Enjoy:

MILTON — After briefly pausing, John Shires broke the bad news to me.

“If you were one of my drivers,” he said, “I would chew you out right now.”

Apparently, while driving a simulated big rig down an equally simulated highway, I drove way too fast in foggy conditions.

And, while I avoided smashing into the back of the simulated compact cars in front of me, it could have gotten a lot worse.

“If it had rained the day before, the shoulder could have been slick and you could’ve flipped the truck,” Shires said.

Ouch.

Luckily, my jaunt down the highway was all in fun — I was testing the new L3 Driver Training Simulator at Watsontown Trucking Co. The goal of the three-screen machine — complete with full driver’s seat, steering wheel and dashboard — is to teach driving skills and safe practices in a controlled environment.

The setup is pretty advanced and feels like you’re really driving a huge tractor-trailer. Shires, a safety instructor at Watsontown Trucking, set the machine on automatic so that I could try it out Thursday.

I started out on a simple highway course set to daytime conditions. But within seconds, Shires had me driving through all kinds of weather conditions — sun, rain, snow, etc.

Then I felt the wheel jerk to the side. The truck spun back and forth wildly.

“That’s what it feels like to drive under the influence,” he said.

Back to normal conditions, I drove down the simulated highway for a bit merging into traffic and enjoying life in a big rig, if only for a minute.

Then I felt a sensation I have unfortunately experienced in real life. The steering wheel seemed to vibrate in my hands and pulled to the right. My “tire” just blew out.

After returning to normal conditions, I prepared to end my simulation experience, having only hit one obstacle — something my family would be shocked to hear, given my reputation as a bit of a hot mess on wheels.

Then Shires activated the fog. I drove along, preparing to pull over gently.

That’s when I saw the stopped cars appear in front of me. I headed to the shoulder, hoping to avoid them.

I did, but didn’t necessarily avoid a potential disaster, as Shires pointed out.

Overall, I give the simulator two big thumbs up. It was incredibly realistic and actually kind of fun.

“I’ve had about 50 people use the machine so far,” Shires said. “Only maybe one or two left here and didn’t like it.”

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