MINNEAPOLIS – MnDOT unveiled its newest weapon in the war on winter driving woes Tuesday. It is a navy blue trailer housing two complete simulator units for training snow plow drivers.
The $670,000 unit is spending this week in the Twin Cities before heading north. Andrew Kubista, MnDOT driver trainer says the simulator unit trains about 3,000 drivers each year, including 1700 MnDOT drivers.
“On Monday, we are heading to district 2, which for us is Bemidji. We will be there for two weeks and then we will be going to Roseau for a week, and then from there to Thief River Falls for a week, Crookston for a week and then Walker for a week.”
The wrap-around screens in the “cabs” of the simulators are so impressive that it is easy to visitors, including KARE 11’s Allen Costantini to forget that it is just a simulation. Buses and cars pass, traffic lights turn colors and even the sounds duplicate the roar of the plows on the pavement.
Costantini took a try at one of the simulators and soon learned the secret of controlling the side “wing” plows that extend from the right side of the plow truck. Were it not a simulation, Costantini would have clipped several cars parked on the right side of a city street.
“That is something that a driver only develops over time,” said Brad Swartz, MnDOT plow driver trainer. “It is really about the feel. The driver has to develop a sense of his surroundings, has to know his route.”
Kubista said MnDOT was called upon by officials from Washington, D.C. for advice on training for their own truck drivers. He thinks such training may have paid off during their recent storm.
The new simulator offers computer scenarios from daylight to night, clear weather to the strongest of blizzards.
“Very limited visibility,” said Swartz, peering into the ‘snowflakes’ rushing toward his ‘windshield.’
“I have been a plow operator for 20 plus years and this is very familiar to me. I have seen this many times. This is the kind of condition that our plow operators operate in quite often.”
The emphasis, of course, of the simulator unit is safety. Drivers are trained to react properly to different situations that can and do occur during plowing runs. Pedestrians and other vehicles move in and out of the scenarios on the screens.
Training for snow plow drivers might seem odd to some to be happening in January, rather than September or October.
“We do the training year round,” said Swartz. “We run 42 weeks out of the year. The other ten weeks allow for us to do maintenance.”