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Virtual reality: A safe way to learn dangers of distracted driving

If you've got a teenager in the house, chances are that you're worried about their safety behind the wheel. Statistics show that teen drivers are at a higher risk for a fatal accident within the first year of licensure than at any other time after that.

Teenagers also contribute to a disproportionate number of car accidents. According to a study conducted last year, drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 make up just over 6 percent of motorists on U.S. roads. Yet this same age group is responsible for 14 percent of injurious, police-reported crashes and more than 11 percent of fatalities. These statistics are enough to keep any parent awake at night.

So how can we help our teen drivers stay safe behind the wheel? How can we teach them the dangers of distracted driving without risking their lives in the process? Thankfully, technology may provide some assistance here.

A growing number of teen drivers are learning about the dangers of distracted driving by using virtual driving simulators. One example is Toyota's TeenDrive365 simulator. It works with a strapped-on head device called an Oculus Rift, and allows the user to have a virtual driving experience while seated in a real (though stationary) vehicle.

Most distracted driving simulators try to give users a real-feel driving experience while interjecting a number of common distractions. It doesn't take long for these distractions to impair a user's driving skills, and a crash is often the result.

Thankfully, it's a crash that causes no actual harm. And hopefully, the user is left with a visceral understanding that distracted driving can easily lead to injury and death.

Driving simulators are still somewhat rare, at least among consumers who plan to use them at home. As the technology improves and comes down in price, however, more and more teenagers may be able to utilize this important learning tool. Until that time comes, please have a frank discussion with your teen driver about the dangers of distracted driving.

Source: PC Magazine, "Test Your Teen's Driving Skills With Toyota, Oculus VR Simulator," Chloe Albanesius, Jan. 15, 2015

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