Get off the road!

Train­ing used for pi­lots could work with driv­ers, writes Mark Hinch­liffe With driv­ing sim­u­la­tors, learn­ers can . . .

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

DRIV­ING sim­u­la­tors sim­i­lar to the ones used to train air­craft pi­lots could have a big role in im­prov­ing safety on Aus­tralian roads.

One of the coun­try’s lead­ing driver ed­u­ca­tors, and the founder of Fa­tal­ity Free Fri­day, be­lieves sim­u­la­tors have a big role to play with learner driv­ers.

Rus­sell White says re­sults from 2007 re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Iowa shows a 70 per cent cut in crashes among rookie driv­ers who com­pleted sim­u­la­tor train­ing.

‘‘ Peo­ple on the phone ei­ther drive too fast or drop their pace back and start to wan­der around in their lane

‘‘If it’s good enough for pi­lots, why not driv­ers?’’ White says.

He be­lieves learner-driv­ers should be able to declare on their log­books any time spent on com­puter sim­u­la­tors with a qual­i­fied driv­ing in­struc­tor, as well as get­ting bet­ter train­ing in con­di­tions they might not en­counter in their re­quired log­book hours.

‘‘Tens of thou­sands of driv­ers around the coun­try got their li­cence dur­ing the drought years with­out ever hav­ing to drive in the rain,’’ he says.

White’s own com­pany , Driver Safety. com. au, has a $35,000 driv­ing sim­u­la­tor that can sub­ject learn­ers to var­ied weather con­di­tions and driv­ing sce­nar­ios such as sub­ur­ban streets, coun­try roads, high­ways and com­muter traf­fic jams.

White has adapted the Dutch-de­signed sim­u­la­tor soft­ware to Aus­tralian road con­di­tions with lo­cal sign­posts.

He demon­strates the sim­u­la­tor’s po­ten­tial uses in a cars Guide demon­stra­tion of driver dis­trac­tions with tests in­volv­ing chips, soft drink, mo­bile phone con­ver­sa­tion and tex­ting while driv­ing.

Year 11 stu­dent Jess Mills, 16, strug­gles to stay in her lane when dis­tracted with chips and drink, varies her speed er­rat­i­cally while talk­ing on the mo­bile phone and crashes into parked cars dur­ing the tex­ting test.

Nick Bun­ney, 21, hits a sign­post and fails to give way in the chip and drink dis­trac­tion tests, slows sub­stan­tially when talk­ing on the phone and crashes into the side of a van he doesn’t see while try­ing to send a text mes­sage.

White says these valu­able lessons about driver dis­trac­tion can be taught only on a sim­u­la­tor.

‘‘Peo­ple on the phone ei­ther drive too fast or drop their pace back and start to wan­der around in their lane,’’ White says. ‘‘ This hap­pens be­cause peo­ple switch from a broad view and ex­ter­nal fo­cus to a nar­row view and in­ter­nal fo­cus to con­cen­trate on their con­ver­sa­tion.

‘‘When you switch over, your re­ac­tion times in­crease, your scan­ning process de­creases, you get a fixed stare and your gaze drops.

‘‘Our tests have shown there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween whether peo­ple are hold­ing the phone or us­ing a hands-free de­vice.’’

He says tex­ting is the worst dis­trac­tion be­cause it not only di­verts at­ten­tion, but also takes the driver’s eyes off the road.

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