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Driver Simulation Training: How to Teach Good Judgment

There is a saying among medical doctors: “Gaining experience is not equivalent to becoming an expert.” Expertise and good judgment arise from the combination of acquiring clinical experience and then looking back and analyzing what happened, “reflect[ing] on the role of thought processes, psychomotor skills, and emotional states to improve or maintain future performance.”[source]

This two-part process—experience followed by reflection—explains how it is that a person with more experience in the field may, counter-intuitively, prove to be the most likely to show poor judgment or miss a critical detail.

Rob Raheb—a simulation training specialist with decades of experience in Emergency Medical Services, and noted for his expertise in the psychology of driving—is always quick to point out: “People hit things they don’t see; they don’t hit things they do see.”

Driver simulation training has proven to be an excellent platform for teaching good judgment, specifically because it lends itself to this two-part process.

Driving Simulation Training as an Ideal Platform for Judgement Training

“A lot of people,” Raheb finds, “try to use the simulator as simply that, a driving simulator.” They see the simulator as a tool for teaching how to make a good right turn, or what to do if a tire blows out at high speed. “But it’s a lot more than that. It’s all about judgment and decision making. That’s how simulation actually reduces collisions: By making a driver more aware of their surroundings and the situation. If I recognize the event as it’s unfolding in front of me, I’m already taking evasive action to avoid the collision.” More importantly, this level of forward planning means that evasive action can “be nothing more than slowing down or making a safe lane change.” No hard braking, no swerving, no near miss, no minor injuries—nothing dramatic. “Recognizing the problem before it’s a problem, that’s the goal.”

Chuck Deakins—a simulation training expert specializing in law enforcement training—agrees: “The pursuit is not just the skills of operating a vehicle at high speeds. That’s a skill that’s needed, but it’s not the only skill. There’s also the skills at decision making, preventing tunnel vision, keeping everything on an even keel, staying cool, calm, and collected. All of these feed into good judgment and those are the skills you develop in a controlled environment of simulation training.”

Both Deakins and Raheb find that driver simulation training is an especially effective tool for honing forward planning and judgment skills. This is because, in the simulator, you can safely push the trainee beyond the limits of their skills, putting them into extraordinary circumstances with serious ramifications. Then you can step back, watch a picture-in-picture recording of the entire scenario, and break down their responses in detail, helping them reflect on what drove each decision.

This interplay—the immersive experience, followed by deep reflection on that experience—is more powerful than either part alone.