I-17 101 traffic interchange

ADOT prepares for winter season with snowplow simulators

ADOT prepares for winter season with snowplow simulators

November 29, 2023

Immersive simulation helps operators train for ice, snow and other winter driving conditions

Each winter Arizonans count on snowplow operators to clear highways when snowstorms roll through Arizona’s high country. Operators of the Arizona Department of Transportation’s 200 snowplows have been training since mid-September on snowplow simulators to prepare for the upcoming season. 

ADOT’s five snowplow simulators, located in Flagstaff, Kingman, Holbrook, Phoenix and Tucson, are programmed with scenarios that are meant to mimic what operators may encounter on Arizona roads. A given training session can have a driver working in daytime or night in locations that include highways around the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff or the Grand Canyon National Park Airport, which ADOT operates. It’s a convenient and effective way for the drivers to learn and boost safety on the state’s highway system during the winter.

“These simulators help us to train our employees at a fraction of the cost that it would be if they were to take a plow out, spend funds on fuel and risk damaging equipment,” said Mario Ortega, ADOT training delivery manager. “With the simulator they can hit a sign, hit a vehicle, and we can start over. In the real world, there are no do-overs.”

Instructors can create different simulations that give ADOT snowplow operators the opportunity to drive in various scenarios, including daytime and nighttime conditions, rainy or low visibility circumstances and even the iciness and material of the roads. The simulator will react, allowing an operator to feel what it’s like to drive over railroad tracks or encounter an icy highway.

All ADOT snowplow operators are required to complete a refresher class on the simulator every year in addition to holding a commercial driver license.

“This is a tool for our operators, a tool for the state, for ADOT, to make the roads safer for the traveling public and our operators,” Ortega said.

In the real world, drivers of passenger cars can also do their part to keep everyone safer:

  • Always stay at least four car-lengths behind a snowplow

  • Never attempt to pass a snowplow, to prevent crashing into the massive vehicle.

  • More information about driving near snowplows can be found at azdot.gov/KnowSnow.

ADOT has over 400 trained snowplow operators who work around the state. During the busy winter season last year, ADOT spent nearly $13.8 million on winter operations. Operators covered 1.2 million miles, nearly twice as many as they drove during the 2021-22 winter season and logged more than 66,000 hours – more than double the previous season’s total.

ADOT reminds travelers to prepare for winter conditions. Visit ADOT’s 511 Travel Information site or download the AZ511 app (free in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store) to check highway information before leaving and real-time conditions via the statewide network of highway cameras. Ensure that your vehicle is in good working order with tires equipped to handle snow. 


Get more information and tips for driving in winter weather at azdot.gov/KnowSnow