Thursday, December 11, 2014

A safer driving test?

I sent the following to the Star Tribune on 1999-07-15.  I don’t think it was published.  The link to still exists but the link to does not.

"Unreal games" reminded me of many earlier thoughts I've had about driving simulation. When I tried Silicon Motor Speedway at the Mall of America, I thought that its technology could be used to give more rigorous driving tests. When I read about Unreal's software engine, I thought that this technology would be even better for a driving test.

States will probably continue to test applicants in real cars in artificial environments for many decades. But what if insurance companies tested their customers in artificial cars with a seemingly realistic environment? Instead of only stopping for a stop sign, keeping in the lane, turning correctly, what if
drivers could be tested on how close they followed, how well they could stop when a ball rolled into the street, how well they could drive at night, how well they could do in dozens of situations they would encounter on real streets.

As an inducement for drivers to take the test, the insurance companies would lower drivers' premiums according to how well they did on the test. Even if some drivers aced the test but continued many bad habits and attitudes, wouldn't they have gained some small change in behavior and skill?

To check on how far the technology has come, I searched the web for "driving simulator" and "driving simulations", I received 1300 references (via HotBot).  Clicking on the very first item ( I found a wealth of other links. One was a Driving Simulation Conference in Paris, France this past week. Another was a set of abstracts of papers written at the Center for Computer-Aided Design at the University of Iowa; these discussed many of the problems of driving simulation and solutions already found ( Other links were to a few software packages from around the world.

In what I did visit, I found government and auto manufacturer sponsors, but no insurance companies. I reduced the selection by adding "insurance" and still had 830 finds. The first twenty didn't look promising other than some school districts' driver education programs were mentioned.

Considering what I found in a few minutes was far more than I had read about recently, insurance companies and others in a position to test drivers may be doing more than I know.  For the sake of safety and comfort on the roads for all us, let's hope that someone, somewhere has already taken steps to increase dramatically the number of good, defensive drivers.