Sowela students gain behind-the-wheel experience through simulator

Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 10:29 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) -It’s full speed ahead for even more hands-on training for students at SOWELA Technical Community College.

The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program recently received a new tool to help prepare future drivers before they hit the road with their new L3 Harris simulator.

With a nearly $130,000 virtual reality simulator, students can jump behind the wheel as if they were driving any type of vehicle. The new simulator resembles an arcade game and allows students to sit down behind the wheel, put on their seat belt, drive and shift the vehicle.

Taking the Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT), which is part of the program offered by Sowela, is required in order to take the state skills test.

Sowela’s Class A license training program is a comprehensive, 245-hour classroom and behind-the-wheel program that helps prepare students to take this test.

Byron Knox is a CDL instructor at the college and said their new simulator allows the students to experience driving in any scenario with different commercial vehicles, as the instructor can add snow, rain, change the perceived weight of the vehicle, and even simulate levels of impairment.

Each student in the program will be given an opportunity to learn all the requirements to safely operate a vehicle, regardless of their skill level or experience.

“Even though you have no physical experience, we give you enough experience where a company will be glad to hire you because they know you have had the efficient training in order to be CDL-certified,” said Knox.

Knox is able to change conditions while the students are engaged in the virtual reality simulator and is able to oversee everything they do.

“It has all the movements just like you were out there in the real world. If you hit a pot hole you can feel the pothole. You have a blow out you feel the blow out. If you have any faults or oil leaks, I can put all of those scenarios on there at different times during the course of their training,” said Knox.

Knox said that this also takes the strain off their actual vehicles and takes away the fear for a student’s first time driving.

It will help them learn basic operation scenarios, like turns, blind spots, space management, shifting on a freeway and other environments.