A dose of virtual reality: Sanitation workers receive accident training through a simulator

[From The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle]

A dose of virtual reality: Sanitation workers receive accident training through a simulator

October 5, 2009

To become better drivers and reduce accidents, the city’s sanitation workers took a safety course that included videos, computer work and driving a simulator.

By Jodi Rogstad

CHEYENNE — As Chris Hinds turned the packer truck around a corner, the suburban neighborhood and landscape gave way to an abandoned downtown.

It was raining, which made for slick roads.

But Hinds never logged a mile: He was driving a simulator inside a semitrailer parked next to the sanitation department’s transfer station.

It felt like a genuine bouncy ride inside a garbage truck. The massive computer was designed to work in concert with the cab. If Hinds were to, say, drive over the virtual curb, he’d feel the resulting thump.

Hinds and other city sanitation workers were training Thursday to become better drivers.

Randy Peterson, a simulator facilitator for trucking company DART, was in Cheyenne this week with tips and refreshers on how to avoid on-the-job accidents.

After all, they have to maneuver trucks in tight alleyways not designed for these vehicles, work with blind spots and make frequent stops on a daily deadline of emptying hundreds of trash containers.

Along with DART’s $450,000 computer that can simulate 50 different vehicles on 50 landscapes, Peterson had quizzes, handouts and showed videos with titles such as “Seven Deadly Sins to Winter Driving” and “Twenty Reasons Not to Tailgate.”

Accidents do happen. In 2008, the sanitation workers logged 37 vehicle accidents — for 27, the other end of the damage was property, such as fences and posts. Four were the fault of other drivers.

By comparison, the police department logged 30, the fire department had five, and the city’s transit program had 16.

Peterson said 78 percent of truck accidents involving cars are the fault of the driver of the smaller vehicle.

“But my personal experience: Thirty percent could still be avoided,” Peterson said.

As another sanitation worker took the simulator for a spin, his session ended when a virtual car rear-ended the truck. Technically, it was the car’s fault. But it could have been avoided if the truck wasn’t taking up two lanes, he said.

“My goal (for this session)? That won’t be measured until next year,” Peterson said.

That means that when he returns, he wants to see at least a 20-percent reduction in accidents.

The Wyoming Association of Risk Management — a liability insurance pool for local governments — paid for the training. Training for the sanitation department continues today and Saturday. Earlier, drivers for the city’s street and alley department and transit department got sessions of their own.

Next week, Peterson is headed to Gillette for safety training with the firefighters there.

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