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Can Virtual Reality Change The Way We Train Our New Drivers?

Virtual reality seems like a futuristic concept that should remain in the sci-fi and gaming world.

However, virtual immersion can be used to combat the worrying statistic that one in four 18-24 year-olds crash their car in the first two years of driving (Brake, 2014).

The virtual world can be easily manipulated to better reflect the driving conditions of the road and learners can experience every driving difficulty imaginable.

However, there are concerns about the realism of virtual reality training and if it will properly prepare drivers.


Hazard perception without the risk

Driving instructors would attest; teaching learners would be easier if there was no-one else on the road.

Of course, this isn’t a representation of reality with roads becoming busier than ever before! In a 2008 study by the RAC it was suggested that there would be a 30% growth in the number of cars in the UK between the time of the study and 2020 (RAC, 2008).

Virtual reality has the potential to revolutionise the way that learner drivers tackle the roads, allowing them to learn and gain experience can help without the risk of physical danger.

Cost and time efficient

On average, driving lessons in the UK will cost £1128 by the time the test is passed (AA, 2013); lessons take up a vast amount of time too.

With virtual reality, costs associated with an instructor are reduced and the driver will be able to learn and experience more in their hourly lessons than they ever would on the road.

With driving simulations, every aspect can be manipulated from weather conditions to the level of hazards, meaning you get to experience every difficulty associated with driving, something you might not experience during on-road lessons.

The reality of on-road training

It is worth considering that virtual reality is strongly associated with video games for a reason.

While simulations may be cost and time effective, this does not mean that the teaching experience is of higher quality. Real life driving does not come with a reset button as it does when you face a virtual reality simulation.

The lack of realism removes the motivation to truly concentrate and learn from the mistakes that the hazards cause. Studies show that during driving simulations, the learner is aware that their actions do not pose a danger, allowing for a false sense of safety and responsibility (Käppler, W.D., 1993).

It is factors such as this that show the value of instructor-based training as it gives you an appropriate taste of what it is like to be on the roads.

Limited research

While some driving schools are looking to introduce virtual reality lessons into their teaching environment, the research into the effectiveness of a driving simulation is limited. VR has only recently gained popularity, so the longitudinal effects on drivers are relatively unknown.

Motion sickness

There is one thing limited to virtual reality headsets that will not occur when learning on the road: simulator sickness. The headsets may cause the user to experience nausea, making it an impractical method of driver training for some.

Motion sickness is less frequent in the younger generation than it is with the older generation so perhaps this is something that should be taken into consideration before embarking on your simulation.

Recent research suggests those over 50 years of age are most susceptible to the effects.

Virtual reality certainly has the potential to change how driving schools train their drivers. It can act as an excellent teaching tool that enables the learner to experience every hazard and difficult driving lesson. Simulations make safety paramount and ensure that danger is never presented to any other road user.

However, virtual reality can never fully overtake the importance of a hands-on driving instructor who can teach the learner on the road.

A harmonious combination of virtual reality and road driving has the potential to make safer, more knowledgeable new drivers.

Image credit: Lucrezia Carnelos

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