According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, motor vehicle accidents cause 35,000 deaths and 2.5 million injuries. Overall, they rank third as a cause of death behind cancer and heart disease.
But for people under 30, they’re the number one killer.
According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 90 percent of vehicle collisions result from negligent driving behavior. But repeatedly, studies show that traditional driver education isn’t as effective as we’d like it to be.
Could modern driving simulators be a more effective solution?
Simulator Technology Today
Computer-based flight simulators trace back the 1960s. They were a solution for military and commercial pilots to learn their trade without the risk of destroying extremely expensive equipment. Driving simulators came later, due to lower stakes.
Modern simulators can provide a high-fidelity simulation of realistic, customizable streetscapes. Motion can be simulated for the driver, often through the seat. They allow trainers to modify a preset environment by introducing pedestrians and other motor vehicles into the simulation. Setups vary from a single-monitor desktop to a realistic vehicle body with a simulated 360-degree field of vision.
The simulators used most commonly for non-commercial drivers involve a three-screen display to create 180-degree visuals and a semi-realistic version of the driver’s area of the car.
Simulator training is often coupled with a risk-assessment session and traditional defensive driving instruction.
The Potential of Driving Simulators
Driving simulations open up many possibilities not available with classroom or real-world driving practice.
In traditional driver’s ed or defensive driving, the way to navigate extreme scenarios like icy roads or a multi-car pileup might be described to you. That doesn’t help much in the moment. Chaperoned practice behind the wheel is useful for everyday driving skills but doesn’t provide much practice for situations where things go very wrong.
With driving simulators, students can practice every-day skills with an instructor who is not distracted with their own safety and technology that helps instructors better analyze the students’ actions.
They can also practice skills that would be too dangerous or difficult to replicate in real life. They can practice reacting to the reckless driving of others or the sudden appearance of pedestrians or objects in the road. They can be subjected to uncommon environmental conditions like fog, high wind, black ice, steep grades, and different lighting conditions. They can feel the slower reaction time of impaired driving. They can make mistakes and safely experience the consequences of those actions.
The Effectiveness of Driving Simulators
Research so far supports the effectiveness of simulators for training safer drivers.
A 2008 study with novice drivers found that students who trained on high-fidelity configurations had significantly lower crash rates than conventionally trained peers in their first two years of driving. The students who used the realistic instrumented cab and full-sized display had crash rates cut by a factor of three.
A 2013 study in Florida conducted by the National Center for Transit Research found that bus simulator training lowered city bus collision rates. By experiencing mistakes in a repeatable environment, bus drivers were able to gain skills, knowledge, and confidence they couldn’t on the road. Overall, they concluded that simulator training can lower costs and improve safety performance among drivers.
Driver simulators are a valuable new tool in training or assessing driver skills. They provide a repeatable environment to help drivers practice extreme driving scenarios or situations that are dangerous to replicate, thereby preparing them for the worst on the road.