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Using Simulation Technology to Change Driver Behavior

Even as driver’s education has become more comprehensive and rules around driving for young adults more stringent, the rate of serious accidents is still quite high. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, new teen drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash than more experienced drivers. Driver distraction is the cause in roughly 60% of these crashes. Teens are three times more likely to get into an accident because they are texting and driving.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem we can lecture our way out of: 97% of teen drivers report that they believe texting and driving is extremely dangerous. Nevertheless, roughly half of all teens still do it.

Arbella Insurance was so concerned about trends in distracted driving among young people that they teamed up with the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) Human Performance Lab to develop the “Distractology” program. This program relies on both lecture and immersive simulation technology to help young people understand the profound impact of cognitive distraction on their own driving performance.

Training Teens to Anticipate Latent Hazards

Arbella’s Distractology program is housed in a 36-foot-long mobile classroom outfitted with a pair of state-of-the-art immersive driving simulators from Realtime Technologies (RTI). These simulators have been programmed with a series of driving scenarios that match the most common real-life situations in which driver distraction causes accidents among younger motorists. The 45 minute simulation program is interspersed with instructional and informational video clips that illustrate specific safe driving concepts.

The areas addressed in the Distractology program are not limited to hot-button issues like texting and driving. Immersive simulation technology gives younger drivers an excellent opportunity to practice skills related to adapting to roadway conditions and anticipating hidden hazards. This “latent hazard anticipation” is especially important, as multiple studies have shown that novice drivers regularly fail to perceive hazardous locations in the roadway because they have not yet had the opportunity to develop appropriate scanning behaviors.

How Simulation Technology Safely Improves Driver Education Experience, Learning, and Retention with Distracted Driving Modules

Obviously, the safety of the simulator is an ideal environment for beginning to hone these skills. RTI frequently supports both academic and industry researchers working on issues around ergonomics, human-machine interfaces, and driver distraction/disengagement. The sim has repeatedly proven itself to be an invaluable tool specifically because in the sim researchers are free to get drivers into a distracted or disengaged state and then test a variety of mitigation strategies.

But this recent work with Distractology has highlighted another important aspect of simulation technology: that viscerally experiencing the illusion of multitasking and reality of the dangers of distracted driving can be a very efficient tool in driver education. Arbella and Donald Fisher (emeritus professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UMass-Amherst) found that young drivers who completed the single-session Distractology program were 19% less likely to have an accident and 25% less likely to even have a traffic violation.