Technology in Driver Education

As discussed above, traditional driver education has focused on teaching skills, driving practices, and the rules of the road. Computer-based instruction makes it possible for the objectives of driver education to include not only a more complex conception of driving skills—encompass-ing perceptual, psychomotor, and cognitive skills—but also attitudes about driving and risk-taking and a wider range of knowledge about the challenges of driving. As Wade Allen, who provided an overview of the potential of this technology, explained, computer-based instruction also offers practical advantages as well—it can be administered on the web, for example, and can be provided consistently and easily by school districts and driver education schools.

The primary advantage of computer-based instruction is that it can use scoring to motivate and encourage students and to focus attention on the criteria for successful completion of the course. As it does in other contexts, computer-based instruction allows novice drivers to practice handling hazardous situations without risking their lives. Students can experience roadway and traffic hazards, even crashes, in real time and practice situational awareness (awareness of the surrounding situation and potential risks) and decision making under stress. Scoring for practice sessions can instantly indicate the consequences of driver decisions. Computer adaptive technology could allow the program to focus on a student’s weaknesses, allowing follow-up practice to reinforce learning from mistakes.

Computer-based instruction can be delivered on a desktop computer (the least expensive model), in a console simulator or a more complex display system, or by means of a portable computer installed in a vehicle that is equipped with a virtual reality headset (the car’s wheels are placed on turntables so the learner can operate the steering wheel). Although the costs increase significantly with the complexity of the hardware, the face validity—that is, the extent to which the simulated experience resembles a real-life experience—is likely to correspond to the sophistication of the hardware as well.

As Allen explained, the benefits of computer-based instruction are many and the obstacles to widespread adoption are not technological but economic and social. This point hearkens back to earlier discussion of strategies that are underused, as well as to a broader point that emerged throughout the workshop sessions: a broad, multifaceted approach offers the greatest potential to bring about meaningful improvements in driving safety for teens.

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