One thing we didn't notice a whole lot on the roads this winter was snowplows. They were definitely out and about for a majority of last winter, but this winter, drivers got a bit of a reprieve.
And I don't envy the job they have to do during the winters with heavy snow.
Region 8 of the Minnesota Department of Transportation had a bit of a "media day" Tuesday at the Marshall office to have those in my field give a snowplow simulator a try. It's a training tool for snowplow drivers and it goes all around the state. It's where you drive a hypothetical snowplow and see first-hand what a plow driver has to contend with during and after a heavy snowstorm.
Media day was just me and a reporter from the Pipestone Star. By the time I?got there, the Pipestone Star reporter was ready to give the simulator a go. I've never been real good at driver-type video games like Pole Position, so I was a little nervous about getting behind the wheel of a virtual snowplow.
I?watched my fellow reporter go through the course. He was advised by the woman who was handling the simulator to slow down a little for the conditions, but otherwise he was doing OK. It was slightly snowing and you couldn't tell where the curbs were really. Plus you had to remember that you were "driving"?a big vehicle. And then there were several obstacles - people, other vehicles, and toward the end of the course, an accident. He ended up getting an overall driving score of 80 percent.
Then it was my turn. First the seat had to be pushed all the way forward as I?have short legs. And I?still had to stretch to reach the pedals. This wasn't gonna go well. Yes, I?was still a little nervous driving a virtual snowplow. I?envisioned running into cars and people. After starting the vehicle and putting it into drive, I was lucky I?could get the darned thing to go. My right leg was stretched out and my foot was pressing as hard as it could. But my plow was hardly moving. I?think I?was going about 12-15 miles per hour. Then I hesitated on a right turn. And I was jumpy about every little possible thing. Almost thought I was gonna sideswipe a truck.
Then mercifully it was over. And much too soon compared to the Star reporter. I didn't even complete the course! Well I barely cleared two blocks. I think my clodhopper Skecher was also touching the brake a bit when I?had my leg stretched out toward the gas pedal. It was a bit pathetic. I was docked quite a bit for that, earning a 60 percent on that portion. I got a 55 percent overall for my "driving"?capabilities. So much for ever becoming a plow driver if the newspaper gig doesn't work out in the future. But then again, I?have a hard enough time driving a Jeep in a real live snowstorm. I couldn't even imagine trying to maneuver a big snowplow with the side wings going down the highway with vehicles, animals and other random things that may dart out in front of the plow.
The simulator can be used for any other kind of situation, whether it involves the police or any other emergency vehicle. According to information from MnDOT, simulating reality can mean real savings. It provides the training in an off-the-road setting which saves on insurance costs, fuel costs, fleet maintenance, liability exposure, vehicle damage, training costs and workers compensation claims.
And one can add various hazardous conditions to the simulator as one is training - like hazardous weather conditions, varied road conditions, heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic and difficult maneuvering.