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Simulation-based Situational Awareness Training: Making City Streets Safer

 

There’s not too much that can win an argument with a streetcar”—but motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists keep picking that fight: (footage courtesy of the Australian Capitol Territory )

Driving is already a remarkably dangerous activity. It only gets worse on city streets, where so many vehicle types—private motor vehicles, bicycles, and mass transit—share congested roadways. In general, it falls to the transit operator to prevent these accidents—even when the responsibility clearly lies with “the other guy.”

This means that transit operators must develop a level of situational awareness significantly more refined than the average driver. Simply “extending their senses” further than the average driver, while vital, isn’t enough. We also need to train them to respond appropriately in a split second when they see a problem arise.

How do we train transit operators to both see the accident coming and respond quickly and appropriately?

Situational Awareness Training for Mass Transit

We already know that lecture, video, and PowerPoint are not effective ways to approach situational awareness training. And you certainly can’t go out in public and find—or create—a dangerous situation just to see how the trainee handles it.

This is where Nigel Lindsey-King—a transit training professional (and former mass-transit vehicle operator) for the Toronto Transit Commission—has found simulators to be invaluable.

“As an instructor, there’s no way I could let you get into a dangerous situation because of the consequences. Whereas, on a simulator, I could let you do that, see the consequences, then play it back and let you see what you could do differently.”

This is a much more powerful teaching technique. In contrast to the lecture room or closed training course—or even behind-the-wheel training with an instructor—immersive simulation-based situational awareness training has biology on our side. Research demonstrates how “mild and acute stress facilitates learning and cognitive performance.” Getting the adrenaline pumping helps us encode memories and learn new skills. Additionally, it allows us to rehearse how to properly respond to high-impact, low-frequency events (like these in the video).

“That’s the best thing about the simulator,” Lindsey-King explains. “You can thrust someone into a life-or-death situation, and then be able to say: Let’s play that back; let’s see what we could have done differently. That, in my mind, has made a tremendous impact” on public safety.

 

Remember: Mass Transit Is Good for You

Now that we’ve aired all this frightening dash-cam footage, it’s worth reminding ourselves that mass transit systems are fundamentally good for you. Not just in terms of individual cost savings, decreased pollution, and increased convenience: Research shows that light rail is a safer option overall, and that “metro areas with higher public transportation use have lower traffic fatality rates.