Get off the road!
Training used for pilots could work with drivers, writes Mark Hinchliffe With driving simulators, learners can . . .
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.