Drivers' Ed, Updated For The Modern World

July 9, 2013

Visit a drivers' education classroom today, and chances are, it'll look very similar to the one you sat in ten or twenty years ago: the same charts on the walls, the same well-meaning public-service posters, and of course, the same driving simulators with the same Nixon-era filmstrips.

But according to the New York Times, that's all going to change next month -- at least at schools that can afford to upgrade.

The next generation of educational systems use 3D technology to create more realistic and varied driving scenarios. And unlike old systems, where everyone in the classroom watched and reacted to the same filmstrip, the new ones create individualized experiences. When drivers collide with pedestrians, cars, or other obstacles, the simulators stop, creating a realistic crash scene, complete with ambulance sirens approaching from the distance.

Teachers hope that this technology will be particularly instructive when students are asked to compose text messages in the simulator. If all goes as planned, it will give young drivers a better sense of how ill-equipped they are to overcome driving distractions and an immediate, visceral understanding of the consequences. 

The upgrades are a way of addressing today's driving hazards in a proactive way. That's important because, as we've seen before, even the most stringent graduated licencing programs don't actually curb accidents, they simply delay them.

This is great news for worried parents of teenage drivers. Though we can never be certain how in-class programs will affect real-world habits, there's evidence to suggest that making kids encounter issues first-hand is a far more effective teaching tool than hokey warning posters drafted by government wonks.

The only downside, of course, is the cost: roughly $10,000 - $50,000 per simulation unit. At that price-point, it'll be a while before these new systems reach every corner of the country -- by which time, we'll probably be ready to upgrade again (provided autonomous cars haven't taken over the world, of course).  

[h/t John Voelcker]


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