Practice and driving experience
People learn to drive well by practicing a lot, by high quality instruction and feedback. In fact, in addition to immaturity and impairment, lack of driving experience in various driving tasks is probably the main reason for the over representation of young drivers in the accident statistics. In a good driver training program, young drivers get as much driving experience as possible. This factor is probably more important than other factors in the driver training program. For example, from research there's not much evidence for the claim that a professional driver instructor gives better results compared to a parent of friend as instructor.
Programs for learning to drive should emphasize not only the ability to control a vehicle, but also teach how to apply traffic rules and to interact with other traffic. Training of hazard perception and of safe driving is important as well. Especially in traffic participation, it is important to practice a lot and get good traffic experience with a large number of traffic situations.
During training, it is important that student drivers get as much driving experience as possible in all relevant traffic situations. A number of studies have demonstrated that "The crash risk of novice drivers decreases rapidly during the first few months of post-licensing driving, indicating that some important safety-relevant traffic skills are learnt during this period." (from Sagnert & Bjornskau, 2006).
Extensive driving experience in the simulator
If those important safety-relevant skills are learnt during the period of formal driver education instead of after, by having the student encounter more relevant traffic situations, and thus get more driving experience, the training program would improve considerably. The importance of lack of driving experience has been demonstrated in a number of studies.
How can a driving simulator help to improve driver training programs ? Most driving simulators simply replicate traditional training programs and it can be argued then that a driving simulator adds little to driver training. However, a driving simuator may really add something new to the process of learning to drive if a large number of relevant traffic situations are trained and evaluated, allowing the student driver to get much more driving experience in a shorter period of time. If that is offered by a driving simulator students may learn to automate their driving skills much faster in a simulator compared to traditional driver training, and get more driving experience in a shorter period of time.
All kinds of driving tasks can be practiced in a driving simulator: driving off in first gear, gear shifting, visual scanning when approaching intersections, applying right of way rules, entering highways, lane changing, driving on roundabouts, etc. Also night driving, driving in fog, rain or snow can be trained. When the learner driver masters those skills well in this simulator, the next step is to drive a real car on public roads. Because the learner driver can drive already by then, training can be focussed on more difficult traffic situations from that point on.
dr. Wim van Winsum is the owner of Carnetsoft. He obtained a PhD in driver behaviour research and has worked as a scientific researcher at the University of Groningen and the research institute TNO in the Netherlands. Carnetsoft offers cost-effective driving simulators for driving schools. The training is focussed on task automation and driving experience in a large set if driving tasks.