Virtual Reality Driving This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   On July 5, 1993, Carolyn Ognibene, 34, Timothy Ognibene, 7, and Stephanie Ognibene, 5, of Elba, were killed in a car accident. Mrs. Ognibene had taken her children to pick up her oldest son from basketball camp. A van driven by a 16-year-old male crossed the center line and slammed into their car. He had received his license two months before and said he had fallen asleep. Safety belts were worn and alcohol was not a factor. Elba is a small, close community, so accidents like these affect the whole community. We believe that people everywhere want a solution to end these automobile accidents.

During the twentieth century, the rates of death and injury due to automobile accidents have risen due to an increase in the number of vehicles. The United States reports about eighteen million automobile accidents occur each year. They are the leading cause of death for young people under the age of twenty-five. More than seventy percent of collisions occur at intersections. The most fatal accidents occur in rural areas because of the speed limit of 55 m.p.h.

Ninety percent of automobile accidents are caused by human error. Inattention to the road because of passengers, loud music, mental pressure, or psychological escape can lead to automobile mishaps, also. Accidents happen suddenly as the result of miscalculation. Teenagers take even greater risks by driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and not using safety belts. For young drivers, knowledge about driving is acquired every day through experience.

Today's automobile safety devices are good but they are generally more concerned with preventing injuries and fatalities after the collision occurs. We would like to try to eliminate collisions altogether. We feel we can do this by making people confident and cautious drivers.

The main problem with new drivers today is that they do not receive enough experience through five-hour courses and driver education programs. Driver education programs provide students with knowledge of how to maneuver and control an automobile in hazardous conditions, ability to manage visibility, time, and space, and awareness of limiting factors (emotions, weather, alcohol influence). However, the students never get to experience actual hazardous situations. Only a few states require that driver education be taken before the road test so many prospective drivers do not choose to take driver education.

Our solution is to amend the present-day road test. Road tests are inadequate. Instead of a road test, we would like to have a virtual reality driving system to test prospective drivers' abilities and reactions to certain conditions.

There has been extensive research on virtual reality, or computer simulations. For our virtual reality driving test, prospective drivers would sit in the driver's seat of a mock car with a standard equipment. Other accessories would include headlights and windshield wipers. The apparatus would need to respond realistically in order to be effective. About five feet in front of the test-taker would be a wide field-of-view screen with high-fidelity sound. Sound could include traffic noises, passengers talking, and radio music to familiarize the prospective driver with certain distractions. The screen would give the illusion of looking through the windshield of an automobile. The screen would make it possible to convey the illusion of driving without the use of a head-mounted display. Test-takers would be able to turn their head and look around just as if they were in a vehicle. A computer would monitor the driver's actions and reactions to conditions while calculating their score.

Our virtual reality driving course would include country driving, city driving, expressway driving, and night driving. These four stages would include different obstacles and driving maneuvers.

Stage One: Country Driving would be set in a rural area of farms. The speed limit would be 55 m.p.h.. The weather would start off as a beautiful, sunny day and suddenly it would rain.

Stage Two: City Driving would focus on an urban, fairly populated area. The weather would be fair but then include snow. Test-takers would need to reduce their speed and make quicker stops. Obstacles faced would include bicyclists, emergency vehicles, a playground ball rolling out into the street, and parked cars.

Stage Three: Expressway Driving would include moderate traffic. Test-takers would enter via the acceleration lane and exit via the deceleration lane. Changing lanes and reading road signs would be needed, and obstacles would include double trailer trucks, tailgaters, and motorcyclists.

Stage Four: Night Driving would be set around 9:00 p.m. Test-takers would have to deal with the decrease in visibility.

The computer would calculate the test-taker's score by deducting certain point values for each error. If they did not obtain the score needed to pass, they would not receive their license. The computer would also determine precisely where the test-taker looks to be sure they were looking ahead, scanning surroundings, and using the "left-right-left" intersection rule. Infrared gazing detection could be used. A printout of the test-taker's performance would be reviewed in order to determine which areas the driver is strongest in and where improvement may be needed.

The virtual reality driving simulation would not be a replacement for the actual driver road test. Rather it is a means of measuring and helping to perfect the skills necessary to drive on our highways safely. A new driver must first prove him/herself capable of the responsibility of actual road driving. Then, when the test scores from the virtual reality simulation show a sufficient level, the new driver would be scheduled for an actual road test. u


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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