-

ST. CLOUD - Temperatures may be muggy right now, but that doesn't mean Minnesota's snow plow drivers aren't preparing and training for winter.

MnDOT's mobile snow plow simulator is on a tour of Minnesota, and drivers everywhere are using it to hone their skills before the snow flies. Most recently, the set-up was stationed in MnDOT's St. Cloud office.

The simulator is set-up inside of a trailer, and contains three, 42 inch plasma TVs that, when put together, virtually portray what it's like behind the wheel of a plow.

In stepping behind the wheel of the simulator, you definitely realize they have not left anything out. Along with the screens, there's a wheel, dashboard, shifter, seatbelt and key to complete the experience.

The driver's course is timed, and route and degree of difficulty is selected by the operator, stationed at a nearby control computer. Once finished, the maneuvers are scored in a percentage system and given to the driver afterward to gauge where they excel or need improvement.

Statewide trainer Kathy Hokkola says, before the simulator, MnDOT employees - from plow drivers to state troopers - practiced their driving in actual state vehicles on closed courses.

Now, thanks to technology, she says the state saves time and money while replicating real and potentially dangerous situations so that all MnDOT drivers are prepared.