So, What’s It All About, This VR Driver Simulator Training Thing?

In short, the first big goal is to knock 20% off the road toll. It could be a lot more, but this goal is clearly achievable by tackling the very important “operator error” issue component of the road toll head on. 

There are two principle reasons experienced drivers have a lower serious accident / death rate. One is that they have had close calls or actual accidents that didn’t kill them and they change things about their behaviors going forward. Exactly what / how that happens is not quite clear, but it is well understood that “good fear” changes attitudinal behaviors / hazard perception skills, and anyone that has been in serious accident / close call situations typically experiences this – ie indelible personal trauma life events, presuming they remained conscious.

The “memorability factor” in accidents comes from the surprising and unexpected nature of how “the situation” arises in the first place, and the graphic reality of how hard a hit it is when vehicles actually collide, which is pretty traumatic for anyone that goes through it. Plus there is the pain and discomfort, extreme inconvenience around all the circumstances of time off work / holidays, lost income, etc. And the sudden inability to fulfill your intended life commitments to friends and family.

This all comes with the “bonus”  sinking feeling of knowing that possibly YOU were the one that made “this mess” happen, and you injured others too, maybe more than you. Or the sorrow of just knowing how “unlucky” you were.

Oh yes, and you, or them, might be DEAD. Or vegetative. Or totally immobile. Or just injured in a way that living life generally how it was is a total impossibility. The future is a very different thing now, and money won’t fix it!!!

What would you do if you had less than 60 Seconds to Live?

Would you use it like these people did? Your Last 60 Seconds of Life, Wow….

The other reason experienced drivers don’t have accidents is that they are just very careful people. Some are born that way and NEVER have accidents. Good on them – is this 5% of the population, or is it less that had the benefit of excellent attitudinal parenting and gene pool luck? For the rest, we have scary life-changing events! We KNOW how bad accidents are, and really really don’t want to be in another one / “that close” again. So we join the ranks of the careful people and see situations arising sooner / make different choices going forward. And our “luck” improves markedly, as we keep out of other people’s mistakes more often and make less ourselves.

This driving simulator training project is going to “cut out the middle man” and unashamedly intends to scare young drivers, in appropriate ways that will get them to make better choices going forward, shunting them straight into the “careful drivers” box. Of course it is critical to create situations where the fear is believable – ie it really COULD happen to you, whereas for those of us it did happen to, we don’t have a ‘believability’ issue. Once the brain ‘gets’ this, it will do its survival thing to help make those better choices. Extending this to repeat offender programs, elderly licence holders or, shock horror, the general population for ongoing competency testing, where the right to hold a licence is a genuine privilege not a right, are all possible applications of this technology. As are many other training / entertainment scenarios and vehicle types.

If we were setting out today as a society to issue licences to people for the ongoing right to operate a device that could kill people easily, how would we do it? The devices are called “cars” and historically we have set up basic ability to operate / know the rules tests, and we make sure an “experienced driver” spent time with the novice. The way we (mostly) check how that is all going is by hiding (or not) speed testing devices and keeping score of how many times the subject got the wrong numbers. We rely on this system for the rest of the subjects’ driving lives, and we are a bit shaky on the smartest way to say it should end now.

Alternately, as a society, we certainly should ensure those physical skills and rules knowledge exist, plus useful to have insights from more experienced drivers regardless of any particular baggage that may come with that, but as far as the ongoing aspect is concerned, have we got it covered? Not a chance! Highlighted by the simple fact that every single driver, closely observed, would lose their licence on every single trip they make according to present rules – and this is only counting each category of speeding once! Far better to have more credible ongoing testing which, once a person has been through it and passed, an appreciation of and acceptance of the rights and realities of other road users would make those extended the privilege of a driving licence much less likely to have accidents. This is the “gold star” goal, and the society that can do that is likely to see a tenth or less of the prior road toll – can we get there?

Of course for a society to change directions is no small task. We have become addicted to the revenue raised from speed cameras and enthusiastic “what quota, is there a quota?” policing. And woe betide the politician that would suggest that driving licences should be issued against a higher standard, and really do it! Once the existence of a viable methodology is proven, hopefully the maturity exists in  society to have the discussion about revenue sourcing and true causative factors behind the road toll, and actually get some alignment of effort.

The design of this simulator is founded on some very solid and previously undiscovered fundamentals of simulator design. Basically by the inventor, a mechanical engineer, looking at what we are trying to achieve here, and approaching it from a completely different perspective to the various ways others have in the past. That simulator design has progressed more than 20 years after this concept was first developed, without anyone else coming to the same realisations is somewhat surprising, but testament to the evolutionary nature of this approach. Ultimately, this simulator is only a tool, and getting changed behaviors is all about “the lesson plans”. Of course there are some strongly held views informed by personal experiences, but it is a body of work to scientifically determine what techniques are the most effective in achieving long term outcomes.

The above barely scratches the surface of this meaty topic, but gives an insight to the mindset behind this initiative. This driver training simulator project will take new drivers and put them through realistic driving training scenarios based on human psychology to train them to make different, better choices when it comes to driving motor vehicles on the roads. This will be done in an affordable practical way that works at population scale. For example, to roll the program out in NSW Australia would involve 20 simulator centers with 15 berths each, with a projected cost of $35 / session. Ten sessions over some months are anticipated to get maximum benefits. This is world ready technology and no reason, other than practicality of the initial roll-out phase, to limit it to one country – just a task of adjusting lesson plans to suit cultural norms.

Please feel free to browse around and particularly check the forum for topics you may wish to contribute to.  Hopefully, an irresistible desire will arise to join in with substantive contributions to assist where possible. Some of my professional friends already have, maybe you would like to get special mention on the Supporters page too? Thank you in advance for your interest and support.