x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

On virtual roads, crashes are educational

Students get the benefit of advanced technology and use the experience to be better and safer drivers.

The simulators at the Emirates Driving Company provide 36 scenarios that students could face on the road.
The simulators at the Emirates Driving Company provide 36 scenarios that students could face on the road.

Abu Dhabi // Just a few minutes after she pulls on to a motorway for the first time, Ayah Helwani's trip comes to a violent end. Her vehicle is rammed from behind while she is trying to overtake. But luckily for Ms Helwani, 18, the crash takes place only on a computer screen.

Instead of a trip to the hospital, she gets a report detailing what she did wrong; instead of reliving the accident's horror in her mind, she can watch a replay in slow motion. The experience is all part of a driving simulation at the Emirates Driving Company in Musaffah. "My first time and I got in an accident," Ms Helwani said ruefully. "I didn't see [the other car] because it was in my blind spot."

She is one of about 500 student drivers who are gaining valuable experience each day behind the wheel in 11 simulators, facing bad weather and reacting to unexpected obstacles. The goal is to give them a taste of reality on motorways. The technology exposed them to all sorts of road and weather conditions. There are also other hazards, such as the odd camel wandering across the road. "They will not get this type of education during their [real-world] training because there is no fog nowadays and they have to drive in rain, but there is no rain," said Moamer al Ghazalfi, the head of the theory section at the driving school.

The routes the students travel on the simulator look familiar: they have been programmed using images of Abu Dhabi's streets and even include the famous gold-and-white taxis that, as in real life, switch lanes without warning. Three screens create a peripheral view and digital mirrors make it possible to keep track of vehicles approaching from behind. Students faced 36 scenarios on the roads, including night driving, and must react accordingly or face a virtual collision.

Conditions are realistic: for instance, cars will take longer to stop on a wet road than a dry one. Scrapes the learners might face are crashing into the rear of a stopped taxi or losing control of their vehicle. Fog and darkness impair visibility. The simulator cannot, of course, replace a real-life driving experience, which is why it just part of a learner's training, Mr al Ghazalfi said. "You cannot come to the simulator if you have not had any training before."

Students spend two to six hours in the simulator, depending on their ability. First, though, they must pass a theory exam and complete some practical training, including parking, tunnel driving, overtaking and reading traffic signs. Students also go out on the roads with an instructor to experience regular traffic. Although Ms Helwani protested that if she had been in a real car, she could have checked her blind spot and avoided the accident, she said the experience was useful.

Yasser Syed, 19, said that when he used the simulator, the monitors on the left and right helped create a realistic driving experience. "What they do is right and what they are teaching, if it is implemented, it actually comes in quite handy," he said. mchung@thenational.ae To catch up on The National's campaign for safer roads, visit www.thenational.ae/roadsafety