Picture this. You JUST got your license, and you are about to get behind the wheel for your first solo drive. It had been raining earlier in the day, so the roads are still wet, and the sky is threatening to rain once again. The sun is starting to set, so it is getting dusky. You decide to drive to your friend’s house 15 minutes away so that you can brag about your new abilities. The route to their house is pretty straight-forward, and you’ve taken the route a hundred times in the passenger side. Turn out of your neighborhood, go up a hill, turn onto a poorly-lit, windy, hilly back road until you turn into your friend’s neighborhood. However, on your first solo drive, you encounter several problems that you’ve never encountered before. How do you overcome the following set of examples?
Example 1: Deer
With it getting dusky, your headlights are on. You begin to see little critters on the side of the road, with their eyes lighting up in reflection to your lights. Creepy. You round a sharp bend in the road, and 30 feet in front of you is a buck, big antlers and all. Another car is coming in the other lane. Stopping isn’t an option, as the deer is too close. How do you decide between hitting Bambi’s dad, the oncoming car, or the big trees on the other side of the road?!
Example 2: Tailgater
It continues to get darker as the sun continues to set. All of a sudden, there are headlines blinding you through your rear-view mirror as a car speeds up behind you and gets really close to you. You are already driving a little above the speed limit, and the driver behind you continues to get closer and closer to you, really making your hands sweat. How do you react?
Example 3: Hydroplaning
You are navigating yet another curve on the road when you hear a crack of thunder, and it starts to pour. Big, fat rain coming fast drops cover your windshield and make it hard to see even the hood of your car. Panicking, you slam on the brakes. Instead of stopping, your car begins to hydroplane. What do you do?
It will seem unintuitive to young drivers, or even experienced drivers in new areas, that in Example 1, you are supposed to hit the deer. Forcing yourself not to swerve around the deer is something that experience could help.
It is well advertised that tailgating is incredibly dangerous, especially at high speeds or on roads where there are unexpected hazards (like deer, bicyclists, pedestrians). (See the infographic by Matthew L Sharp on other styles of driving and how they can also be dangerous). Young drivers may continue to get infuriated by the added pressure of a car driving right behind them and may not know the best thing to do due to inexperience.
Most will know that slamming on the brakes in wet or icy conditions like in Example 3 is more dangerous than continuing to drive. However, new drivers may not have that knowledge, or the experience needed to know how to handle that situation.
Many young drivers, especially those who live in areas where there isn’t much rain or snow, like California, or in areas that don’t have high deer populations, won’t know to ask how to handle some of these common situations. Therefore, learning by experience may be the best way to help drivers avoid problems. It won’t help to raise the driving age – this will just cause the spike in accidents to occur in an older age group, as they will be just as inexperienced as the teenagers.
I propose that virtual reality be implemented in Driver’s Education programs or as a part of the state Department of Transportation as a requirement for receiving one’s license. The technology exists, as evidenced by the amount of VR-capable devices and programs on the market and its ever-expanding usefulness. Forcing a young driver behind the wheel of a real car to force hydroplaning or sliding on ice would be very dangerous and unwise. (However, a colleague of mine explained that this is what her father did to her, and she claims she’s a better driver because of it). Therefore, giving young drivers a safe way to experience these hazards and allow them to work through them on their own in a virtual manner would give them much needed experience and allow them to be more confident on the road.
Of course, none of this will prevent “iGen” and future generations from using their phones while driving, which is where a lot of danger comes from with young drivers. However, cars continue to gain capabilities, such as hands-free calling and hands-free texting, which may help drivers keep their eyes where they should be: on the road. By giving drivers a safe way to experience some common hazards or road conditions, we can help to minimize some of the dangers of driving, especially the preventable dangers caused by inexperience.
Thanks for reading!!