Photo: Vincent Nestor in the simulator
Joe Foti is holding steady at 55 mph in the cab of a snow plow as it glides down a stretch of road during a blizzard.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a car comes out of his blind spot on the left side of the truck.
As the Belmont Water Division employee puts on the breaks, over his right shoulder a voice booms out: “You gotta go, Joe. Keep it at 55, Joe. Let’s go, Joe.”
From over his left shoulder, another voice tells Foti to “answer your cell phone. Where is it? It’s next to you.” As Foti reaches for the phone, a truck in the oncoming lane swerves towards him. As he turns the steering wheel, the voice to this right yells, “You’re thirsty, Joe. Grabbed that water bottle.”
With a cell phone in one hand, Foti reaches for the center console when out of the steady falling snow he suddenly spots a parked SUV in front of this speeding truck.
“Look out, Joe” he hears, as his seat is being pushed back and forth as he hits the passenger vehicle.
For Foti and more than a dozen driver who push snow and spread sand and salt on town roadways, the combination of nightmarish senarios did not take place on town streets but in the driving simulator that was located in the Belmont Department of Public Works Yard last month.
The employees drove through a number of driving challenges with the help of two instructors – the voices behind Foti’s shoulders – who spoke of best practices and tips on driving a big truck safely in bad New England winter weather.
The simulator came from L-3 Technologies, an international firm that provides real-world driving environments that can be configured for multiple vehicle types, including snowplow trucks, tractors, dump trucks, heavy-duty trucks and tractor trailers.
The training was part of a $10,000 grant from the DPW’s insurance company, said Michael Santoro, the town’s Highway Department manager who first the simulator in action four years ago at a public works conference.
For DPW employee Vincent Nestor, the training “is pretty lifelike and I will take this training to the job.”