Akshar Shastri Mini-Course: Transportation Technology and Science

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This image captures the epitome of the similarities between the trucking industry and the school bus transportation market.

Transportation Technology and Science


A sign advertising available jobs for highway maintenance workers at the Clifton Park rest area on I-87 North in Clifton Park, NY. Notice that a CDL A or CDL B is required for employment. Photo by Akshar Shastri.

Commercial drivers are at the heart of the American transportation industry. Truck drivers are responsible for delivering freight to our stores, while school bus drivers transport children to educational establishments in local communities. Unfortunately, the population of these workforce groups is declining, causing a shortage of qualified drivers in both industries.

In 2004, “9.8 billion tons of freight” was transported across the nation (Quinn, 2004, p. 39). This volume was an increase from 9.1 billion tons of freight in 2003. Unfortunately, at the time the industry was short 80,000 drivers and it was predicted that the deficit could grow to 200,000 drivers in the future. This issue was compounded by the fact that carriers did not expand “their fleets, largely because they [did not] have enough drivers to fill their open positions—let alone any new ones they [created]” (Quinn, 2004, p. 39).

The shortage of drivers has now grown to approximately 539,000 drivers (Johnson et. al, 2009, p. 2). This deficit is paired with a turnover rate in excess of 100% (Johnson et. al, 2009, p. 1). Unfortunately, this shortage is not unique to the trucking industry. School districts across the nation are facing a driver shortage as well. In 2015, only 6% of school bus contracting companies had an adequate number of drivers (DeNisco, 2015, p. 18).

Unfortunately, working in the commercial vehicle industry is not a concept that is presented in most schools. Yet, everyday thousands of students across the nation ride on school buses to educational institutions and purchase products that were transported on commercial trucks. Popular television shows and media glamorize the commercial vehicle industry such as History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers.”

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to some of the basic technologies present in these vehicles, and allow them to evaluate if they would like to join the industry after they complete their high-school education. A commercial driver's license (CDL) is needed for driving many vehicles such as tractor-trailers, school buses, and even fire trucks in some states (Peters, 2015, p. 4). As the photo to the right shows, other occupations require a CDL as well, such as jobs pertaining to highway maintenance.

Main Course Objective

Students will be able to identify the key concepts associated with the commercial vehicles such as school buses and tractor-trailers that they interact with every day. This knowledge will allow them to pursue a career in the transportation industry and be safer citizens on the road.

Units & Learning Objectives

Please click each unit title to visit the module.

Unit 1: Diesel Versus Gasoline Engines

Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to explain why diesel engines are used in commercial vehicles.
  2. Students will be able to identify the key differences between gasoline and diesel engines.

Unit 2: Air Brakes in Commercial Vehicles

How do we stop some of the largest vehicles on the road safely?

Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to identify the emergency brake used in all commercial vehicles.
  2. Students will be able to explain why air-brakes are used in commercial vehicles as opposed to hydraulic brakes.

Unit 3: Different Trailer Types & Configurations

Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will explore the different types of trailers present on the road.
  2. Students will explain why companies prefer to use intermodal containers when possible.

Unit 4: Emission Control

Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to state some of the dangerous particulates present in diesel exhaust.
  2. Students will be able to explain the differences between EGR and SCR emission technology.

Concluding Case Study

Learning Objective:

  1. Students will explore one aspect of the commercial vehicle industry and write a report with their findings.


At this point in the course, the student has been able to witness the variety present in the commercial vehicle industry. A student may be interested in attending commercial driving school in order to obtain a CDL for driving a school bus, fire truck, or tractor trailer.

The student may not be interested in a driving career, but may be interested in the environmental impact of the transportation industry. Pursing a degree in environmental policy with a concentration in transportation technology might be a good avenue for this student. Finally, the pupil may be interested in supply chain management. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a master’s curriculum that focuses precisely in this area.

Please write a 1-2 page report about a technical aspect of the commercial transportation industry that you find interesting. It can explore air-brakes on trains, or the warning light system on a school bus. Please try to focus on a technological aspect of the vehicle. If you are located in a classroom, feel free to discuss ideas with your classmates.


DeNisco, Alison. "Bus Driver Shortage Drives New Incentives." District Administration, vol. 51, no. 11, Nov. 2015, p. 18. EBSCOhost, libproxy.albany.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=110662757&site=ehost-live.

Johnson, James C., et al. "Long Distance Truck Drivers--Their Joys and Frustrations." Journal of Transportation Management, vol. 20, no. 1, Spring 2009, pp. 1-20. EBSCOhost, libproxy.albany.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=60103008&site=ehost-live.

Quinn, Matt. "Trucking Industry Faces Driver Shortage." Inc, vol. 26, no. 11, Nov. 2004, p. 39. EBSCOhost, libproxy.albany.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=14660111&site=ehost-live.