Virtual driving terminals to help state gather data for training curriculum


Rick Rouan - The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)



Ohio plans to roll out more than 400 new virtual driving terminals that let users cruise around a typical Ohio environment while gauging their skills behind the wheel to driver training schools and testing centers around the state.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the state is working with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to use the terminals to gather data that can inform changes to Ohio’s driver training program following a 14-month pilot.

The terminals will help young drivers who are more prone to crashes and their parents determine which skills they need to work on before hitting the road on their own, DeWine said. In 2018, 136 people aged 16 to 25 were killed in car crashes in Ohio, and 17,000 more young drivers were injured.

“This is not a substitute for getting into a vehicle,” DeWine said. “This is not a simulator.”

Instead, the terminal should be viewed as a “diagnostic tool,” he said. The test takes fewer than 10 minutes to complete, but will give feedback on areas where the driver needs to improve.

Terminals will be installed at all 57 of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles driver examination locations by January, and 350 more will be placed in driving schools around the state.

The state is paying for the startup costs with a $350,000 federal grant, and it will not charge driving schools for the equipment, which consists of a laptop, large screen, a steering wheel and pedal, and headphones.

DeWine said the state will “strongly encourage” driving schools that receive the terminals to use them to test students before and after training to measure their progress. All new drivers will be asked to go through the assessment before taking their on-road test.

Non-identifying data from the terminals will be shared with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and state safety officials to shape changes in Ohio’s driver training curriculum, DeWine said. The state also will follow the records of drivers who use the terminals to combine the assessment data with the drivers’ future crash and citation reports.

Researchers at the hospital determined during the pilot project that drivers who use it were more likely to pass on-road exams.

“These are teachable skills. We teach people how to play football. We teach people how to play soccer,” said Dr. Flaura Winston, who is overseeing the research in Philadelphia. “Why can’t we teach people how to drive?”

The terminal will test real-world scenarios such as keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, scanning for curves and watching for traffic at crossings. Users are immersed in the driving environment, wearing headphones that pipe the sounds of the vehicle and surroundings.

Drivers are more likely to cause crashes in the first few months after they earn a driver’s license, Winston said, and targeting the skills where they are deficient could help reduce those numbers.

About 94% of fatal crashes are caused by driver error, said Jonlee Anderlee of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and teenagers who never complete driver’s education courses are 75% more likely to get a ticket.

“Utilizing state-of-the-art technology to make our roads safer is an important move for Ohio,” Anderlee said.

Driving schools that are interested in obtaining one of the new terminals should visit drivertraining.ohio.gov.

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Rick Rouan

The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)