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Simulators should count on logbooks

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    "If it's good enough for pilots, why not drivers?" says Driver Safety boss and instructor Russell White. Photo Gallery

Learner drivers should be able to declare on their logbooks any time spent on computer simulators...

... with a qualified driving instructor, according to a leading road safety expert.

Fatality Free Friday founder and Driver Safety boss and instructor Russell White points out that for airline pilots to retain their licence they have to log hours on a simulator.

"If it's good enough for pilots, why not drivers?" he said.

White said time spent with a simulator could also open up learners to conditions they may not encounter in their required logbook hours.

"Tens of thousands of drivers around the country got their licence during the drought years without ever having to drive in the rain," he said.

His company's $35,000 driving simulator can subject learners to varied weather conditions and driving scenarios such as suburban streets, country roads, highways and commuter traffic jams.

White has adapted the Dutch-designed simulator software to Australian road conditions with local signposts.

He said Iowa University research in 2007 showed the number of crashes involving learner drivers who had also performed simulator training dropped by 70 per cent.

In a demonstration of the simulator's uses yesterday White put a learner and a young driver through distraction tests with chips, softdrink, mobile phone conversation and texting.

Year 11 student Jess Mills, 16, has had learner's licence for a month but has only logged two hours of driver training with her parents in her automatic Holden Cruze.

She struggled to stay in her lane when distracted with chips and drink, varied her speed erratically while talking on the phone and crashed into parked cars during the texting test.

Nick Bunney, 21, has had his licence for three years but has already copped a hefty speeding fine in his manual Suzuki Swift.

He hit a signpost and failed to give way in the chip and drink distraction tests, slowed substantially when talking on the phone and crashed into the side of van he didn't see when he was trying to send a text message.

White said these valuable lessons about driver distraction could only be taught on a simulator.

"People on the phone either drive too fast or drop their pace back and start to wander around in their lane," White said.

"This happens because people switch from a broad view and external focus to a narrow view and internal focus to concentrate on their conversation. When you switch over, your reaction times increase, your scanning process decreases, you get a fixed stare and your gaze drops. Our tests ave shown there is no difference between whether people are holding the phone or using a hands-free device. We've found a lot of companies now have an 'engine on, phone off' policy."

He said texting was the worst distraction as it not only diverted attention, but also averted the driver's eyes from the road.

A University of North Texas Health Science Centre study found that texting while driving was responsible for 16,141 US deaths between 2002 and 2007.

Bunney said the simulator distraction tests were "an eye opener".

"Texting is easily the most difficult," he said. "Trying to talk on the phone was easier, but some of the things I said just didn't make sense."

He named other driver distractions as friends in the car, the radio and "fiddling with CDs".

Mills said her parents used a hands-free phone for the car and rarely ate or drank while they were driving.

"I don't think I will ever use my phone in the car," she said.

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 14 comments

  • I am a Driving instructor with many other qualifications in Transport training, I am also a owner of a driving school. and I have read a lot of comments tonight and only a few that are making any sence, the Simulator is a GREAT tool for the very biginner, helps to get the basics on steering and hand eye co-odination for some it doesnt come easy, for others much easier, then the EXPERIENCES like snow, rain, dangerious situations that we as trainers can not allow to happen while on the real world driving with a novice, and many other basic situations that is not always able to experience in the first year of driving, these are invaluable lessons in fact life saving, I also could be able to use a simulator to check the elderly driver and note reaction time in an emergency, instead of as I have had to do assess in a safe and beautiful day with nothing but easy driving conditions, YES it doesnt replace the real thing far from it, a simulator would enhance the experience and those short minded people that mock the advantages do NOT speak from a professional perspective and should be a bit more open to other possibilities. STOP cursing and start understanding other points of view.

    Roy Trendle of Townsville Posted on 07 August 2012 9:46pm
  • If simulators have been brought up to the exacting standards of aircraft ones then maybe prior to going for a licence test every learner should be given the opportunity to sit at least one professional run simulator test which could pinpoint areas needing attention. Maybe the learners permit fee could include one of these tests at a subsided rate. The cost to the government and general public would be covered by maybe avoiding some accidents that might otherwise have occured under the trial and error method on P plates. But simulators cannot replace reality so it would be wrong to see them as any more than training aids and indicators of development needs.

    PukPuk of Cranbourne North Posted on 08 February 2011 1:52pm
  • @sandgroper. I don't think anyone is downplaying the value of real world experience but as you said yourself, you learnt to drive using trial and error after you got your license. What if these simulators gave you an opportunity to learn by trial and error before you got a license and before real lives were at risk? The more training the better.

    Kyle of Melbourne Posted on 08 November 2010 4:15pm
  • Bullcrap! Of course he'd want his simulator to be allowed. Who wouldn?t? But driving simulators DOES NOT replace REAL WORLD experience. When I learned to drive in 1968 there was no log book requirement and I got my license and scooted off to learn by trial and error. My children have had longer to learn (yes I used Driving Schools) and extensive one-on-one tuition with me and mum as supervisors. I'm sure they are better drivers than we were when we started because of these requirements. But simulators? Definitely NOT!

    Sandgroper from Perth of Perth WA Posted on 02 November 2010 5:36pm
  • Put it in context - for a pilot a certain % of time is required or can be carried out in a sim, for the obvious reason of deliberately creating emergency or failure events that may happen in the real world. A driver sim is perfect to train and demonstrate problems you can have driving a car, even showing what it feels like to have a flat, or drive on ice... Learners that need their 100 hours should be made to do between 2-5 hours in a sim... would help.

    Dash of Sydney Posted on 01 November 2010 1:34pm
  • This will never get past with the RTA. The RTA rule is "time must be spent on the public road". I agree with Holden Mad, and use Defence Driver Training. However the RTA does not allow the Hours to be counted. Surely spending 5 hours with learning about what do to when things go wrong and how to handle your car is better the 5 hours of plain driving. As a Student pilot myself, Simulators are great, helps teach us the process to run in our heads before the real thing. But then doing the real thing once we know is better. One pointed missed in this story is that Pilots also go though a theory Class before hand.

    Brendan Fox of Sydney Posted on 01 November 2010 1:14pm
  • What road authorities should be doing is implementing their own Driver Simulator for game consoles (XBox/360,PS2/3/PSP, Wii) and issuing that to learners to get used to how it is like to drive. Even have different scenarios like city/country driving. Then this could be more valid than that those who play Grand Theft Auto.

    Robbo of Sydney Posted on 01 November 2010 11:54am
  • No absolutely not, I've played thousands of simulators and none of them prepare you properly for real world driving. They may be a good addition to driving classes, but they are in no way close to being the same thing.

    Mike of Adelaide Posted on 01 November 2010 9:39am
  • @ Jason Kennedy. I am sorry mate but this is exactly correct, I am not saying that this needs to replace learning on the road but it adds another element where young drivers can be educated on what happens, I am an avid racing game fan and you see what happens when you enter a corner to fast or accelerate to early, what this will teach kids to understand more is what happens if... it may not show them exactly what will happen, but it will given them an image and understanding of what will happen. @rentakeyboard. Do you actually realize that you can go and get a CAMS license without even taking any skills tests, the base level CAMS licence only requires you to fill a form out, send in a photo and pay the 50 odd dollars.

    Matt Schurink of Melbourne Posted on 29 October 2010 5:37pm
  • I think you guys are being a bit harsh. The more training the better, simulators are a great way of learning how to react in emergency situations. Compared to the ridiculous Hazard Perception Test used by the RTA I think this is a great idea. Simulators are not a substitute for real world experience but they are proven to be a big help.. as demonstrated with Gran Turismo and their GT academy.

    Kyle of Melbourne Posted on 28 October 2010 12:25pm
  • I think it's a great idea to practice on a simulator. Not sure about it counting in a log book. Maybe a separate log book. Practicing responsible driving, real or virtual, does change your brain and does make you better: either your more relaxed, you know the steps to take, your familiar with maneuvers, you recognize certain situations as hazardous quickly simply because you've gone through the motions before. Practice even when you don't have a truck or plane at the ready - use it or lose it (your brain).

    Laura Grove Posted on 28 October 2010 2:13am
  • Only an idiot with NO idea could come up with this!

    Jason Kennedy of Cranebrook Posted on 27 October 2010 6:12pm
  • The idea that this should count, is flat out stupid. Real world driving takes into account, rain, peak hour traffic, other idiots on the road (you know who you are) etc. etc You should NOT drive with anything in your hands other than the steering wheel or the gear stick, period. That goes for you, the lady I saw driving with her knee's eating a bowl of breakfast yesterday travelling at 100kmph. I say scrap the log book all together and used defence driver training. This will teach the young guy's and girls what the car will do in a spin or hit cardboard cut out instead of a computer kid. I will line up behind you rentakeyboard for my CAMS licence.

    Holden Mad (HM) of Brighton Posted on 27 October 2010 1:20pm
  • Does this mean after years playing Gran Turismo I qualify for a Cams Racing License? What a crock!

    rentakeyboard Posted on 26 October 2010 7:13pm
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