Simulator lets learner drivers experience road dangers in a safe environment
DUBAI // Jashim Izaz Ibrahim could barely contain his excitement as he got behind the wheel for the first time.
As the learner driver drove round the streets, he remembered to slow down as he went through a residential area, giving him plenty of time to stop for children who had kicked a football into the road.
Thankfully, Mr Ibrahim was in no danger because he was only trying out the Emirates Driving Institute’s driving simulator.
After the hour-long session, the 22-year-old engineer from India was presented with a report on his driving skills.
The simulator gives learner drivers a chance to get acquainted with driving without the pressures of being on real roads, said P M Abdul Razak, assistant manager at the institute’s instructor training centre.
“A simulator helps familiarise them with vehicle controls, its operations, such as steering control, gear change for manual transmission, progression in various driving conditions, braking safely, lane discipline and how to meet and pass other vehicles before they get into a real car and have to manoeuvre through traffic,” he said.
Students learn how to control the car at their own pace before their first on-road lesson.
“I learnt the importance of paying attention behind the wheel, dealing with risky situations and hazards on the road, and following the traffic signs and the rules,” Mr Ibrahim said.
“I think I did well,” he said. “But I failed to use my indicators three times.”
At one point on the simulated motorway, he also managed to swerve around a stray camel that had wandered on to the road.
University studies in the UAE, Norway and Australia have indicated that simulators can place students in driving situations that are high-risk or difficult, or in situations particular to certain regions, said Dino Kalivas, chairman of the driver education and training committee at the International Road Federation.
“In the UAE, students can learn to drive and experience a range of conditions – fog, wet roads, heavy traffic or how to manage traffic signals, manage their speed and maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles,” Mr Kalivas said.
“The best driver-simulator training should have a number of short lessons that allow students to experience, measure their ability and reapply their learning, with feedback from instructors.”
Emirates Driving Company in Abu Dhabi also offers driver simulator training that prepares drivers for emergency situations, such as how to drive in dense fog.
“We’re now seeking new technology,” said Khaled Al Mansoori, chief executive of the company. “We’re testing the use of virtual reality to create safer drivers.”
Students use a virtual reality device to simulate a driving experience. Compared with regular driving simulators, the experience of realism would be higher in a virtual-reality system.
“We tried it a few months ago to see if it’s suitable,” he said. “What’s amazing is that when you move your head, you don’t see your actual surroundings. You won’t see a computer screen like that of a typical simulator, or you won’t see me standing behind you. You’re moving through a virtual environment and responding to traffic.”
The company has yet to decide whether to include it in its curriculum. Some who tried the device had complained of motion sickness, Mr Al Mansoori said.
In Dubai, the Road and Transport Authority recently introduced a virtual reality training pilot project that may become part of the curriculum, Mr Abdul Razak said.
The simulator will allow every learner driver to take an hour-long training session before doing 40 30-minute practical driving lessons on the road. The simulator session costs Dh100.