TDOT uses hi-tech simulator to train snowplow drivers
It doesn't take much snow to make Tennessee Valley streets dangerous for drivers.
It doesn't take much snow to make Tennessee Valley streets dangerous for drivers. We rely on TDOT snow plow operators to safely clear our roads, but in the past, their training consisted mainly of advice from coworkers.
Now TDOT is getting ready by using high-tech simulators to help prepare new crew members.
"I believe I'm ready. I won't know until I'm tested. I always like a good challenge," says TDOT driver James Lankford II.
He's never driven a snow plow, only a dump truck. That's why he's been going through the simulation training to sharpen his skills.
"It also showed me how much different running that plow in front of a truck is rather than just driving a regular dump truck," adds Lankford.
Scott Price, who is leading the training, says the simulator gives drivers a safe environment for getting the most realistic feel behind the wheel.
"If they wreck the truck or hit Johnny or run into a deer, that's easy inside because we can hit the magic mouse button on the computer and everything comes back," says Price.
The machine simulates snowy, icy, and windy conditions. Trainees learn defensive driving techniques, and obstacles are introduced to test their reflexes.
I took the driver's seat for a beginner's course. According to Price, I did pretty well.
"So far so good. You're doing fine," Price says to me.
On their first assignments, drivers may get paired with someone more experienced. But TDOT supervisor Tim Worley says they have to be ready to do it alone.
"So we give them every opportunity, as far as new employees, every opportunity to learn whatever they need to know before they go out there," says Worley.
TDOT started using the simulators in 2012, and Worley says the program's been very successful.
"It's very effective, and they talk about it when they leave," adds Worley.
"I've really enjoyed the course. It was fun. I had a ball doing it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat," says Lankford.
The four-hour class also includes computer-based training and written quizzes. If drivers want additional training they can take a TDOT road course and check out routes they might have to take once it snows.