Program puts young in driving seat

00:00, May 16 2011

An online computer program designed by a road safety expert and lecturer at Waikato University is helping young folk to learn to drive. Wintec journalism student Jonathan Carson reports.

A new online driving simulation program developed by a Waikato road safety researcher aims to prepare young people better for real life on the road.

And the novice drivers start right here on Hamilton streets.

The web-based driver training program, eDrive, was designed to teach young people driving skills using more than 100 real-life situations filmed on New Zealand roads.

The program, using state of the art video technology, takes users on a road trip through New Zealand streets and scenery.

Hamilton's Grey St features in the first training module, which requires users to identify risks such as pedestrians and braking cars.

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Project manager Dr Robert Isler, a road safety expert and lecturer at Waikato University, developed the program in his spare time over two years to give young drivers a way to practise in safety.

"The vision was to create a training tool for young drivers so they can practise higher-level driving skills safely on a computer."

Users navigate through a series of scenarios that drivers face every day – such as driving to the conditions and identifying hazards – to learn basic risk management skills before they are let loose on the roads.

Dr Isler said the statistics suggested young drivers needed training.

"The problem is when young people become solo drivers the risk of having a crash increases 20 times. That's what we want to address."

He said the format of the program should be as engaging as a computer game, but did not want this to detract from its serious message.

The program has the backing of ACC and the New Zealand Transport Agency. Both organisations have sponsored free access for learner drivers aged 15-19 who sign up to their online practice program.

Access for other users costs $36.

New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said that although online training wasn't a replacement for getting behind the wheel with an instructor, it provided young people with "good relevant skills". "It's a way for those learner drivers to get some good experience with hazardous situations without actually exposing themselves to risk."

He said the Government's steps to tighten up on restricted driving tests meant it was more important than ever that young people were educated.

Transport Ministry figures show death rates on the road for 15 to 24-year olds in the period 2005-2009 were double those of the population as a whole.

www.edrive.co.nz

Waikato Times