More than 60 MnDOT snow fighters in south central Minnesota will complete additional training in January, February and March using a state-of-the-art snowplow simulator that can create nearly any roadway emergency, traffic or weather condition without ever leaving the shop.
The mobile unit replicates the view from inside a plow using three 42-inch flat screen plasma monitors, and includes almost everything but a coffee holder. The software that accompanies the simulator allows drivers to practice hundreds of plowing scenarios, from two-lane highways and rural areas, to interstates and city streets, in daylight and nighttime.
The simulator will be in Windom from Jan. 30-Feb. 11 and in Mankato Feb. 18-March 7.
County and city crews across south central Minnesota will also take part in the training.
MnDOT has two simulator units permanently housed in the metro area and a mobile unit containing two simulators that travels around the state. The mobile unit comes to south central Minnesota about once each year. This session, drivers will evaluate their general skills and knowledge in managing speed, space, fuel usage, turning, maneuvering and their ability to back a large truck through various hazardous conditions.
MnDOT employee John Traxler is a trainer in south central Minnesota. “The simulators allow us to create many real-life hazards and complicated situations for the drivers. I can present different scenarios to them and see what decisions they make, how they react, see the end results and ask them what they would do differently next time,” Traxler said.
Dashboard controls adjust the virtual mirrors, strobe lights, snowplow blades, salt spreader and ventilation. The steering wheel gives sensory feedback to indicate a rumble strip if the driver strays too far out of a lane or a tire blows. Drivers must maintain an awareness of the vehicle, the road and the environment in front of them at all times. Conditions can be changed at any time by the trainer. The simulator also focuses on another dangerous everyday hazard—other motorists. Trainers can control actions of other vehicles driving near the snowplows during the simulations and recreate real-life motorist behaviors.
The simulators reduce training costs by not using real trucks and fuel. The drivers are also prepared for weather conditions that would be difficult and dangerous to replicate in a real truck experience. The training program began in November 2008.