Research Papers

Training Novice Learner Drivers on Driving Simulators in Quebec – Process and Outcomes

Version 1
Date added June 30, 2016
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Category 2016 CARSP XXVI Halifax
Tags Research and Evaluation, Session 7B
Author/Auteur Pierro Hirsch
Stream/Volet Research and Evaluation

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted)

7B - Hirsch


Background/Context: Novice, adolescent driver overrepresentation in road crashes is a well-documented, robust phenomenon. Driver education and training have rarely demonstrated safety benefits. Flight simulators have proven effective in pilot training and the decreasing costs and increasing quality of simulation technology make driving simulator-based training (DSBT) more feasible. In 2010, a long-term, naturalistic, transfer-of-training (ToT) study began to examine the effectiveness of substituting DSBT for part of the on-road training. Within the ToT study, one driving simulator hour can replace one on-road hour for up to 50% of the 15 hours of mandatory on-road lessons.

Aims/Objectives: This study addresses two primary questions: how does DSBT compare with on-road instruction in terms of performance on the government road exam? Two, does DSBT affect adolescent driver records for infractions and crash risk? One secondary question focused on how driving simulator training was perceived by the learner drivers. Another objective of this study was to explore a method for implementing DSBT.

Methods/Target Group: Simulator scenarios: Vision skill training was the primary and explicit focus of the driving simulator scenario programming which followed proven pedagogical principles, e.g. progression from simple to complex tasks, and exploited the technological advantages of simulation, e.g. performance replays, overhead views, augmented cuing. Learning content followed the topics listed in the Quebec government novice driver curriculum. A total of 44 driving-simulator learning scenarios, each an average of 10 minutes long, were organized into six one-hour sessions and distributed according the government curriculum.

Teacher training: A teacher's guide was written and made available on the screen of the driving simulator operator station and teachers received three days of training and follow-up trainer workshops were organized.

Control groups were selected from among Quebec cities with demographic and crash data comparable to the cities where the participating driving schools were located.

Results/Activities: Learner drivers reported that they found that lessons on the driving simulator were well organized with clear and concise objectives and easy-to-follow instructions and that the simulator scenarios' helped them to understand where they need to look while driving. After completing their 15 hours of combined on-road and driving simulator lessons, learner drivers gave higher ratings for the ease and relaxation of learning on the simulator than they gave for the ease and relaxation of learning on-road. When asked to directly compare one hour of instruction on the driving simulator with one hour of instruction in the car, learners found the simulator to be more efficient than or equivalently efficient to on-road lessons for all 15 driving skills mentioned except parking. In particular, they reported that they found the driving simulator more efficient than on-road lessons for learning to check their mirrors and blind spots, hazard perception, city driving in traffic and visual exploration. The rates of driving infractions and traffic crashes were comparable between the experimental and the control groups.

Discussion/Deliverables: Overall, the novice adolescent drivers in this study reported that learning driving skills on the driving simulator was easier, more relaxing and more efficient that learning the same skills on the road. The naturalistic design of this study can be considered both a strength and a limitation. The strength is the ability to measure the effects of how professional driving teachers use driving simulator-based training in a natural setting with actual learners preparing for their driving permit road exams. One limitation is the number of uncontrolled variables that potentially influence how the driving simulator is actually used. However, this limitation applies at least equally to the delivery of traditional on-road lessons in driving schools. Another limitation is that the unique combination of specially designed learning scenarios focused on vision skill development and the specific configuration of driving simulator hardware and software, e.g. with blind spot displays, plus the initial and recurrent training for the driver trainers may produce results that are not generalizable to other applications of DSBT.

The process of learning to drive is a complex area of study that is arguably underdeveloped in relation to its potential impact on adolescent novice driver safety. A multitude of variables related to the learner driver, the teacher, the vehicle and the driving environment, i.e. road, traffic and weather, interact in ways that make programmed instruction and the achievement of consistent learning outcomes highly challenging. The introduction of programmed learning scenarios delivered on realistic driving simulators into novice driver training allows trainers to exercise more control over environmental variables during a lesson."

Conclusions: Comparisons of driver performance on road tests and records of infractions and crashes show that the substitution of a limited number of driving simulator lessons for in-car lessons on a one-to-one ratio does not appear to have harmful effects on novice drivers. Moreover, questionnaire data indicate that the experience of learning to drive on the driving simulator using specially programmed scenarios focused on training visual skills compared favorably with on-road lessons especially for learning driving skills like visual exploration and hazard perception. Specially programmed learning scenarios delivered on realistic driving simulators by specially trained driving instructors holds promise for novice driver training and may lead to safer outcomes on the road.

Pierro Hirsch