Simulator helps UDOT snowplow drivers prepare for winter weather

Posted at 5:06 PM, Nov 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-20 19:06:21-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- With a storm expected to roll in this week, snowplow drivers with the Utah Department of Transportation are sharpening their skills indoors by using a state of the art simulator similar to video games.

Newly hired Lowell Frashure is one of the drivers taking advantage of the digital training.

“I've never plowed snow before, but I’ve always wanted to,” he said.

The simulator is akin to a video game, but the scenarios play out the way they would in real life.

“It’s a lot more complex than how it actually looks,” Frashure said.

Three screens depict windshields and side windows, where you can see snowy and icy conditions. Lowell confronts many different situations and obstacles during the scenario.

“You’ve got to have a quick reaction, quick perception to realize what needs to be done,” he said.

“As it increases, we increase the challenges,” UDOT Trainer Bruce Bailey said. “We may have wildlife running out. We may have cars parked on the side of the road. We may have pedestrians.”

Trainers said if drivers can navigate these dilemmas on the simulator, then they're prepared to make better decisions on the road.

“So by getting this into their minds and getting them to react to these things in this environment, we've improved our safety rating by 75 percent,” Bailey said.

UDOT’s snow team is made up of 600 drivers, who will man more than 500 trucks this snow season. They said their biggest obstacle is decisions other drivers make.

“Don’t use your cell phone, put on makeup, don’t do certain things that will distract you while you're driving,” Frashure advised.

Bailey said drivers should be aware of plows and position themselves accordingly.

“If you get behind our plows, understand the safest place to be is behind the plow,” he said. “Let us do our job, and we'll get you safely to your destination, and we’ll all go home safe at the end of the day.”

FOX 13 New’s Tamara Vaifanua took the simulator for a spin, see the video above for her report.