Virtual Vehicles Teach Teens Highway Safety

Scientists are testing simulators that mimic the driving environment

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FRIDAY, May 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Could time spent in a high-tech "driving simulator" help teens become safer drivers?

Researchers at Kansas State University are trying to find out.

"Teen driver safety is a critical issue because automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for our nation's youth. We are focused on assessing psychological fidelity and development of training focused on curbing high risk behaviors," Renee Slick, an assistant professor of psychology and director of KSU's Simulation, Training and Assessment Research (STAR) lab, said in a prepared statement.

The STAR lab is sponsored by Drive Safety, an organization that creates driving simulators and researches their effectiveness in academic and industry settings.

Slick said her lab has two main purposes -- to work with teen drivers to assess the effectiveness of simulators and to study whether simulator training transfers to real-life driving situations.

The lab's simulator includes the front half of a real car, and the whole endeavor is designed to re-create a realistic environment. For example, the vehicle's CD player and gear shifter work as usual, while images of roads, buildings, other cars and pedestrians are projected onto screens surrounding the car. The simulator can switch between day and night, and even simulates various weather conditions.

Slick believes it's important to teach teens how to avoid or cope with dangerous driving situations, but doing that on the road is impossible.

"The major advantage of simulation is that it gives teen drivers a chance to practice and build experience without placing them in danger," she said.

Details about the STAR lab's research were presented Thursday at the American Psychological Society annual meeting, in Los Angeles.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about teen drivers.

SOURCE: Kansas State University, news release, May 26, 2005


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