BOISE -- Winter weather will be upon us soon and that means dangerous driving conditions.
The Idaho Transportation Department is getting ready for the season. But, before ITD snowplow drivers hop in their trucks, they hop in an unassuming white trailer near the ITD equipment shed. Because inside the trailer is ITD's snowplow simulator. It looks like a large arcade driving game, except instead of driving a race car, you're driving a snow plow.
Joe Tamasco is a training specialist with ITD. "This is not like driving your car. Because the plow alone weighs about 1,700 to 2,000 pounds, then you're pushing a head of snow on top of that."
ITD has all their new drivers take classes on how to handle the more-than $100,000 vehicles, and then they take the wheel in this simulator. "Rather than just handing them a set of keys and tell them to go drive," said Tamasco. "Because we know how dangerous that is."
The simulator has different scenarios, different trucks, and different weather situations, all to try to prepare their employees for the harshest conditions. "You've got a multitude of decisions you have to make in this case, right then," said Tamasco.
On this day, other ITD employees were getting a feel for what it's like to drive a plow, like Lorie Stites, who works in the District Three office. "It was pretty tough, pretty stressful."
She says she now has a new appreciation for what these snowplow drivers face in the winter. "It helps me realize what they're up against and the traveling public needs to help them out."
That's right. Snowplow drivers need help from all of us. That became evident when Lorie was doing everything right in the simulator but was still in an accident as she was rear-ended by a sedan.
"We're trying to make the highways as safe as we can for you," said Tamasco. "We would hope that you would understand that many times, we can't travel as fast as you can. So, give us extra room."
Wednesday, ITD got two national safety awards. One was for a program to help them measure their winter-weather maintenance operations. The other was for a project that helped identify the locations in most need of safety improvements.