Tonawanda News

October 13, 2013

A free driving simulator program at UB may help pre-licensed drivers learn good habits

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Some parents, if asked, will admit the irony of letting their children drive.

The day most every child is born, parents typically do all they can to keep that child alive and well. And then, on the child’s 16th birthday, they hand over the keys to the family car.  

That moment is often filled with trepidation, but a new program at the University at Buffalo has been created to make teens safer on the road.

Kevin F. Hulme, PhD, runs the motion-simulation lab at the university’s north campus, and he’s looking for students to sign up for his driver training program, which provides a free simulated driving experience to pre-licensed drivers.

The simulator, parts of which were donated by Moog Inc. in East Aurora, is built around an actual car, and gives teens the opportunity to experience the way that chatting with friends or trying to text while driving, can lead to deadly consequences — in a safe multi-screened video environment.

Hulme took a few moments out of his day recently to show a visitor the high-tech new driving simulator and answer a few questions about his program.

QUESTION: Can you describe how the program works?

ANSWER: We’ve put together a 10-hour training experience. The teens come for five two-hour sessions. We try to bring them in a pair at a time. But we have to get the word out to parents that ‘Hey, parents, we have a program and it’s free if your teen is eligible.’

Q: Who is eligible?

A: We’re trying to get kids at a stage where they haven’t yet developed bad driving habits. We’re trying to impart good driving habits at the outset. We think this additional supplemental training can be a huge benefit. So, they have to have a permit, but no driver’s license. We want to target inexperienced kids. 

Q: What do you teach them?

A: We give them basic driving instructions. Red means stop, green means go. Here’s the brakes, here’s the gas. The sooner we can get to them the better. 

Q: Has anyone signed up yet?

We’ve been preparing this program for two years and we’ve got about 15 to 20 kids in the queue. Now that the school year has begun we want to reach out to (high school) principals within a 25 mile radius.

Q: Tell me about the research component.

A: What we really need to a whole lot of data. We are going to track the students’ progress through the program and more importantly, after they’ve gone through the program. If we can show a 10 to 20 percent reduced chance of getting into an accident or having a moving violation, that is a way to interest policy makers. 

Q: Do you find that kids use the simulator like a giant video game?

A: I can honestly say we haven’t had a young person in here who didn’t love the simulator. Sometimes we can be teaching them and they don’t even know they’re being taught.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: Driving simulator at the University at Buffalo's New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation • WHERE: Furnas Hall, University at Buffalo Amherst Camus • MORE INFORMATION: Call 645-2685 or visit www.nyscedii.buffalo.edu