Driving in a driving simulator is an inexpensive, safe and effective alternative to driving lessons in a real car. This is according to research by Stefan de Groot of TU Delft, who received his doctorate last month on the subject of driving simulators. The simulator previously proved to be a good predictor of driving behavior on the road, but there are still opportunities to develop the facilities further, the researcher says. “The objective data can be further exploited to improve training,” De Groot said in his dissertation.
De Groot’s most recent research argues that driving simulators are generally cheaper, safer and more effective than teaching in a non-simulated environment. Staff and fuel costs are reduced and students can make mistakes at their own pace and learn from those mistakes. Yet developments are still possible to improve simulators, the doctoral student concludes. This allows the measurement data to be used for more precise feedback and makes driving in a simulator feel more realistic.
Ten years ago, the driving simulator made its appearance in various driving courses. Initially received with skepticism, Dutch driving schools now have the most simulators in use internationally. A series of studies demonstrated the various benefits of its use. However, there are still gains to be made in the area of knowledge transfer, for example, according to De Groot. For example, he says, lessons should take place less using text and more through real-time demonstrations.
In 2005, a research group at the university started with the question of how reliable a driving simulator is as an alternative to the teaching car. Researchers Stefan de Groot and Joost Winter conducted several studies and experiments in recent years to gather scientific data for this purpose.
De Groot emphasizes that simulators are ideally suited to allow people to experience the limits of their behavior without the risk of injury. In addition, research by his colleague in 2007 showed that students who took driving lessons using a simulator were 4 to 5 percent more likely to succeed than the national average. That success rate would increase as the number of lessons on the simulator increases.
In 2012, the relationship was demonstrated between errors and violations in the simulator and errors and violations on the road. Candidates who failed simulated frequently also ended up needing more hours on the road to reach a driver’s license.
De Groot’s doctoral research shows that effects such as the tightening of seat belts, the vibration of steering wheels and the sound of squealing tires will make driving even more realistic in the future. Indeed, common criticism is still that a simulator ride does not resemble a ride in a real car. “But there is a distinction between driving and behavior,” argues Jorrit Kuipers of driving simulator manufacturer Green Dino.
Kuipers has been involved as a coordinator in the studies conducted by TU in recent years. “Although driving in the simulator is not considered realistic, the learner’s final driving behavior does match that in a real car, research has shown,” he reveals. “And because students in the simulator exhibit the same driving behavior as in a real car, students who were taught in a simulator and then on the road make about the same total number of classroom hours as a student who has only been on the road.”
That various effects such as vibrations and sounds make driving more realistic, the manufacturer endorses. “Green Dino has had to make choices in this. We make our software more and more realistic. But on the other hand, we don’t go too far in adding, for example, tightening belts and motion. We do that to keep the cost of the devices down. For the experience of the student it is very interesting of course, but for the learning value it ultimately has no added value.”
Currently, a driving simulator costs about 12,500 euros excluding VAT. A price of 20 euros per class hour can safely be used, Kuipers argues. “The cost for a lesson hour is under 10 euros, so then you have 100 percent profit margin. That’s exceptional when you see a margin of about 3 percent for the driving school industry.”
How many lessons are given on the simulator, he said, depends on the student and the driving school. “Most driving schools go up to 10 lessons, but there are some that successfully go up to 20 hours. It’s just what the student needs.”
Also at Green Dino, they understand that young people don’t want to miss out on driving a real car and so may be less likely to opt for lessons in a simulator. “We recommend rewards: if the lesson in the simulator went well, for example, let the student drive himself home.”
Kuipers believes a simulator adds value to a driving school. “The studies of the past decade have consistently shown that. And unlike the uncertainty about labor costs and taxes in the future, as a driving school owner, you already know now what you’re going to spend on your equipment in the coming years.”
That learning effectiveness in a simulator is less than in a real car, the manufacturer firmly denies. “That statement is simply not true. In addition, performance of newly graduated students often falls because their instructor is suddenly not sitting next to them to help, even though they are used to it.”
Alblas Verkeersschool is in possession of a driving simulator.