Teen-driving simulator makes education fun and meaningful

Consumer Reports News: April 16, 2013 02:38 PM

One of the coolest exhibits on display at the huge annual Lifesavers traffic-safety conference in Denver this week is an eye-catching driver-training simulator aimed at teens. Gamifying the education experience, One Simple Decision is programmed to demonstrate the hazards of impaired or distracted driving. And the results are impactful.

Made by a company called Virtual Driver Interactive of El Dorado Hills, CA, One Simple Decision comes in two models costing $10,000 to $13,000, depending on peripherals. Clearly, this isn't meant to be a home instruction tool, but rather an aid for a class, clinic, or other group educational opportunity. The company also makes systems for training commercial-vehicle drivers.

To learn more about keeping teens safe in our guide to distracted driving and teen car safety.

The simulator on display looked like car-race video game, with a somewhat life-sized steering wheel mounted on a tabletop, a set of pedals on the floor, and an array of three 20-inch video screens.

Unlike with a video game, though, you face consequences for messing up in One Simple Decision. Drive too fast or recklessly, and you get pulled over and cited by a very serious policeman. Have a crash and you find yourself on a stretcher with tubes being inserted and an oxygen mask coming down on your face. You can also be arrested, go to court, face a fine, and lose your license.

At the start of a driving session, you can choose to simply drive through a course, a series of suburban and urban neighborhood streets, or you can select "distracted" or "impaired."

The distraction sequence features an insistent and excruciatingly bossy young friend nagging you to place a call and/or send a text on his behalf on a simulated phone that pops up on the video screen. Meanwhile, a series of routine driving hazards—a stop sign, crossing traffic, jaywalking pedestrian, runaway dog—seemingly appear out of nowhere. In the "impaired" sequence you may find yourself driving at night on unfamiliar streets, but the steering and brakes have been loosened up, effectively slowing your reaction time to a similar set of hazards. (See our best used cars for teens.)

One Simple Decision does seem pricey for what you get in the way of hardware, and the graphics quality is good but not cutting-edge. The software scenarios, however, which are really what you're paying for, bring enough virtual reality to show what happens when you take your eyes and mind off the road. The results are clear and make a lasting impression. Plus, the hard lessons come in a fun package that many kids will find a whole lot more engaging than the familiar Driver's Ed drone-a-thon.

Gordon Hard

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