PATTERSON, Calif. — It’s not too often you’ll hear even a novice compare a golf cart to an 18-wheeler. But for a portion of Patterson High School’s truck driving education program, students find the two interchangeable. Innovation is an important part of planning and operating one of the country’s few high school-based truck driving programs.
Launched in 2017, Patterson High School’s one-year course meets the FMCSA Entry Level Driver Training theory standards and prepares students to earn their commercial learner’s permit.
For program coordinator and instructor Dave Dein, golf carts are just one of several of his program’s tools.
“We incorporated the golf cart into the program about two years ago,” Dein said. “I was investigating ways I could provide engaging hands-on experiences.”
The program already had two Advanced Training Systems simulators, but Dein wanted another, more “hands-on,” alternative.
“The golf cart is used to create a sense of ownership in the vehicle the students drive,” Dein said. “It teaches the same sense of ownership a trucker has in his truck when he enters the industry. The students must sign out the cart and perform a pre-trip inspection. (Students) are held accountable for the safe operation of the vehicle.”
The golf cart helps the students experience and practice space management in a controlled environment. But one of its most useful purposes is in teaching students the basics of backing up a vehicle — something many professional drivers admit they struggled with in training.
“The golf cart is connected to a 7-foot utility trailer,” Dein said. “Students can practice straight-line, 45- and 90-degree ally, offset, and parallel parking. Once the students perfect their backing skills on the golf cart, we then transfer them to a full-sized semi truck.”
Another innovative aspect of the Patterson High School program came in the form of a gift from Loves Travel Stops.
“The Love’s donation provided the materials needed to purchase the infrastructure for a golf cart ‘course’ on our training site,” Dein said. “Not only that — it also allowed us to purchase a pair of ‘Fatal Vision’ goggles.”
These goggles allow students to learn about driving under the influence by replicating the effects of alcohol on vision. The exercise makes traversing the golf cart course much more difficult, Dein says, and helps students understand what they’ll be facing on the road if they operate a vehicle while intoxicated.
“It is so important to give students an experience to emphasize the dangers of distracted or impaired driving rather than just telling them not to do it,” Dein said.
To help ensure using the goggles and experiencing “drunkenness” had a meaningful impact on students, Dein asks the young drivers to become familiar with personal stories from people who have been impacted by impaired driving.
“It allows them to put faces behind the staggering statistics,” Dein said.
It doesn’t matter whether a vehicle is a golf cart or a semi, it can still be deadly in the wrong hands. Both the golf cart and the
“Fatal Vision” goggles help Dein drive this point home.
“Regardless of a person’s age, climbing into a commercial motor vehicle for the first time can be a little intimidating,” Dein said. “We found that the golf cart is a nice bridge in building those skill sets that are transferable to the trucks. It all is part of building confidence.”
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.