Unlike the video game that turns youngsters into racecar drivers, the animated view of ITD’s snowplow simulator teaches drivers to watch for hazards while clearing highways.
The simulator, packed into a trailer that has toured the state the past two years, made its last stop in Boise recently. New snowplow drivers and veterans who wanted to touch up their skills, put the simulator through its paces at the District 3 office.
Several members of the Treasure Valley news media also accepted an offer to try the animated plowing exercise.
After watching a FOX-TV news reporter take his turn, I settled into the driver’s seat, buckled my seatbelt and began a short drive over a simulated Idaho mountain pass. Ignition, clutch, brakes, overhead warning lights, sander and plow operations provided a fairly convincing sense of reality.
As I pulled from a turnout onto the state highway, snow began to fall faster. Large snowflakes pounded the screen – or windshield – in front of me. It was one of Idaho’s epic snowstorms. Only a few seconds into the journey I encountered a semi-truck and trailer struggling to make it up the grade in the opposite lane.
The computer program monitored my truck’s RPMs, speed and choice of gears. The pace seemed comfortable – an incredible 14 miles per hour – as I watched the blade throw snow onto the shoulder of the highway. Traffic increased. The rear wheels of my truck began to spin as I neared the crest of a hill. This wasn’t a time to panic.
A short time later I entered a tunnel (that’s something you don’t see often on an Idaho highway) and raised the blade slightly to avoid plowing asphalt... Remind me to thank the computer programmer for introducing a stalled semi in the middle of the tunnel.
After squeezing between the semi and the tunnel wall, I emerged on the other side. I lowered the blade, checked the mirrors to make sure I wasn’t plowing down the centerline, and a few turns later the test run was finished.
The simulator recorded every decision and every move. Reviewing the journey on a computer screen showed that my maiden voyage was relatively successful. I managed to avoid passenger cars and trucks, didn’t scrape off any highway delineators or road signs, and for the most part, remained in my lane.
Unlike the actual winter plowing that ITD’s tireless professionals endure, my experience was over in a few minutes. Had it been a real trip, I would have turned around and plowed the opposite direction, stopped for a cup of coffee and started the process over again. And again. For eight or 10 hours, or more.
If you want a taste of what snowplow operators endure on Idaho’s highways, take the simulator for a spin when it returns next year.
Better yet, if you who want to pick up additional work hours and don’t mind maneuvering a 10-wheel dump truck with plow and sander attached over hills and around sharp curves, sign up to be a relief driver. Many of ITD districts welcome employees who want to be cross-utilized for winter highway maintenance.
A word to the daring, though: watch for the stalled semi-truck in middle of the tunnel.